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“Girl. Listen to me. You need to tell him. Now!”
Devon grabbed her glass and took a long sip of sweet red wine, peering at her best friend Lisa over the rim. When Lisa glared back at her, Devon rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Please don’t start with me. I’ve had the day from hell, and I’m so not in the mood.”
It was Friday night, and the women were dining on the rooftop of the Fremont Hotel, one of the few hot spots in their small town of Berman, Indiana.
Devon had just wrapped up an exhausting ten-hour day at The Berman Post, where she worked as an underpaid, underappreciated community events columnist. She couldn’t wait to decompress over cocktails and a platter of all-fried-everything. But being harassed by her girl over a man was not on the agenda.
“Look,” Lisa said, leaning into the table and waving her pointy white acrylic fingernails in the air, “if you don’t stop acting all scary and tell Jason how you feel about him, he’s gonna get away. Again. You’d better snatch him up now while he’s in between relationships.”
Devon slouched down in her chair and crossed her arms. “Do you hear yourself? Everything you just said sounds so thirsty.”
“Welp, considering how parched your love life is…”
Before Devon could snap back with a snarky response, the server approached the table with their dinner in hand.
“Ladies, are we ready to eat?”
“Saved by the bell,” Devon muttered underneath her breath before turning to the server. “Yes, we are. Thank you.”
Her mouth watered as he placed a mountain of chicken tenders, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and loaded potato wedges in front of her. She glanced over at Lisa’s plate, cringing at the sight of slimy pale pink salmon and wilted brown roasted brussels sprouts.
“Can I get you two anything else?” the server asked.
Just when Devon opened her mouth to request another basket of bread and side of ranch dressing, Lisa threw her a look and shook her head.
“No, I think we’re good. Thanks.”
“Wonderful. Bon appétit.”
The minute he walked away, Lisa pointed her fork at Devon.
“Weren’t you supposed to start your keto diet this week?”
“I did,” Devon replied while pouring ketchup over her onion rings, then shoving one inside her mouth. “I started on Monday morning and stopped Monday afternoon.”
Lisa broke out into laughter. “Grand opening, grand closing, huh?”
Devon had been trying to lose the same twenty pounds or so for the past several years. She’d managed to shed some of the weight a few times. But her intense food cravings and bypassed workouts would inevitably take over, landing her right back where she’d started. Devon blamed the transgressions on her stressful job and nonexistent love life rather than lack of self-discipline.
“You do know all those fad diets don’t work, right?” Lisa asked.
“Yes, they do. I just have to stick with one, then eat sensibly once I lose the weight. Of course I need to get back in the gym, too. I’ll get on it once work settles down,” Devon declared before biting into a chicken tender.
“But that’s the thing. Your work never settles down. You just have to make healthy living a priority and fit it into your schedule.”
Devon swallowed hard and stared down at her plate. She knew debating was useless considering Lisa simply didn’t understand the struggle. Her friend had hit the good genes jackpot thanks to her tall, thin, runway model mother and fit, handsome, professional soccer-playing father. So she’d come by her petite, curvy figure naturally. Her long jet-black hair, almond-shaped hazel eyes and full, lush lips were an unfair bonus.
Lisa was the envy of most women and the desire of most men. But she was hard to hate, because despite her razor-sharp tongue, she had a kind heart. Lisa could’ve easily capitalized on her good looks and pursued a career in modeling or entertainment. But instead she taught children with special needs. And rather than seek out ballers and shot callers, she dated men based on their personalities and character.
“I already know what you’re thinking,” Lisa continued, snapping Devon out of her thoughts, “because you’ve said it time and time again. But I work hard to maintain my looks and health. It isn’t just my good genes. I wish I didn’t have to pass on the bread baskets, and I would love to miss the boot camp workouts. However, the results are worth the sacrifice. As they say, nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.”
Devon stared at Lisa defiantly before polishing off a cheese stick and taking a gulp of wine. “So are you just striving to make me feel bad about myself?”
“Not at all. I just want my best friend to be around for an eternity. And not that it should matter, but let’s be honest. You’d get a man much faster if you slimmed down.” Lisa sat back and threw her hands up. “There. I said it.”
Devon choked on her wine. She slammed her hand against her chest, grabbing her glass of water while coughing loudly.
Instead of inquiring as to whether she was okay, Lisa obliviously continued.
“And that’s not to say you aren’t beautiful, because you are. But men are visual creatures. The type of guy you want, that is, Jason, likes fit women.”
Devon cleared her throat but remained silent. She stared down at her plate, rearranging the food while unable to look Lisa in the eye because she knew she was right.
Devon had been pining after their other best friend Jason Williamson since her freshman year of high school. But she was slightly chubby even back then and didn’t think she stood a chance with the good-looking, popular basketball star. So while he chased after the prettiest girls in school, she reluctantly played her position and accepted her role as his bestie.
But it wasn’t as if Devon found herself to be unappealing. She actually felt quite attractive with her smooth, caramel skin, golden brown bob and pleasant baby face. She did oftentimes wonder, however, how she’d look if she lost weight and allowed her cheekbones and jawline to make an appearance. But her pudgy face worked for her considering everyone thought her plump cheeks, innocent doe-like brown eyes and puckered, shapely lips made for a cute look. Devon, however, didn’t want to be cute. She wanted to be sexy and desirable.
“Hello, earth to Devon,” Lisa said, waving her black linen napkin in her face. “Are you listening to me?”
Devon looked up and refocused on Lisa. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“I was saying that you need to have a serious talk with Jason and just come clean. Tell him that you’re into him. The feeling just might be mutual.”
Devon abruptly sat up and gave Lisa her undivided attention. “What makes you think that?” she asked eagerly, hoping maybe Jason had professed his love for her to Lisa.
“Well, I don’t know that for sure. But my point is you’ll never find out until you actually say something.”
“Oh…” Devon uttered, her shoulders slumping in disappointment. She sat back and shoved one fried delectable inside her mouth after another in an attempt to suppress her frustration.
“You know our ten-year high school reunion is coming up, and Jason’s definitely going to be there.”
“Will he? I figured he’d be off on yet another business trip,” Devon said in reference to Jason’s job at Kenelli Pharma, a demanding, mainline pharmaceutical company, where he worked as a sales consultant.
“Yes. He will be. And that would be the perfect time for you all to talk. You’ve got two weeks to pull it together, get going on your diet, and plan out exactly what you’re going to say to him.”
“Why are you so bossy?”
“Why have you forgotten about our plan to be married by the age of thirty?”
Devon rolled her eyes in exasperation, cleaned her plate and drained her glass. “Girl, please. I dreaded that whole marriage pact we made years ago.”
“I didn’t. And I’m well on my way to fulfilling my end of the bargain. I have a sneaky suspicion Charles is going to propose this Christmas. I wonder what type of ring he’ll slide on this finger,” Lisa gushed, extending her left hand and gazing at it through twinkling eyes.
Just when Devon opened her mouth to say she’d probably be alone forever, the server walked up.
“Would you ladies like to see the dessert menu?”
Devon glanced over at the couple sitting next to them and eyed their peanut butter brownie topped with vanilla ice cream. “Mm, I would love an order of the—”
“No, thank you,” Lisa interrupted, opening her clutch and pulling out her wallet. “We’ll just take the check.”
Devon’s mouth fell open as she glared across the table. “Really? Is that what we’re doing now?”
“We literally just talked about how you’ve got to do better. You have the reunion to prep for. So come on. Get motivated. Help me help you. We can meal prep and go to the gym together and figure out exactly what you’re gonna say to Jason.”
“Yeah, I’m not totally sold on that idea.”
“You can be so impossible sometimes…”
Lisa paid the check, and she and Devon rode the elevator down to the valet stand in silence. When Devon’s car pulled up, she turned and embraced Lisa.
“Thank you for dinner. And I know you mean well, but I just have to do things in my own time.”
Lisa pulled away from Devon and squeezed her arm. “I’m your best friend. I know what’s good for you. So just think about it. The reunion would be the perfect setting. If you go for it, I know you’ll get your man.”
Devon shuffled toward her car as thoughts of indulging in dessert at home flashed through her mind. “Let me sleep on it. Call and let me know you made it home safely.”
“I will. Goodnight!” Lisa said right before the valet pulled her car around.
On the way home, Devon contemplated whether she could get up the nerve to finally come clean to Jason. The mere thought terrified her, especially considering he’d never seen her as more than a friend throughout his years of serial dating.
During high school it’d been one beautiful, popular girl after another. In college, Jason was linked to a stunning theater major named Amber who ended up landing a role on a soap opera soon after graduation. He proposed to her right before she moved to New York, and she’d accepted.
Devon was devastated upon hearing the news but tried her best to be happy for her friend. As for Jason, he was thrilled to be marrying a celebrity and loved basking in the glow of her limelight. When his fiancée got a little taste of fame, however, it went straight to her head. She began creeping with one of her co-stars, which Jason found out about through a gossip blog. He was heartbroken upon hearing the news and immediately called Devon seeking solace.
In the midst of his mourning, Devon struggled to figure out a way to express her feelings for him. But she chickened out, and a new woman soon swooped in within weeks of the breakup.
Since then Jason had hopped in and out of more relationships than Devon could count. But she saw right through his behavior and gleaned that he’d grown afraid of commitment after being hurt by his ex-fiancée. Devon wished she could be the one to change all that. She longed to tell Jason that if he gave her a chance, she’d never betray him. But she just couldn’t seem to build up the courage to do so.
Devon pulled in front of her building and strolled through the quaint little courtyard, waving hello to her neighbors who were watering the petunias. Her cell phone buzzed the minute she reached her second-floor apartment. Lisa’s name popped up, and Devon quickly picked up the call before it went to voicemail.
“Hellooo,” she sang.
“Hey. I got home safely. And my sweetie Charles was sitting outside waiting for me with a bouquet of pink tulips and a bag full of Thai food. He’d forgotten that you and I had dinner plans.”
“Aww, he’s so sweet. Tell him I said hello.”
“I will. Let’s chat in the morning. We’ve got a plan to plot…”
“Have fun with Charles,” Devon said, ignoring Lisa’s last statement as she fumbled with her keys. “I think I’m going to start working on my upcoming newspaper article.”
“Why don’t you just relax and take a break? You’re gonna mess around and let that raggedy paper work you to death.”
“There’s no rest for the weary,” Devon said. What she really wanted to tell her was that she needed to work in order to take her mind off of Jason. “Talk tomorrow?”
“Sounds good. Have a good night.”
Devon hung up the phone and entered her cluttered apartment. She’d been so busy at work that she hadn’t had a chance to clean all week. Stacks of laundry were scattered across the couch. Newspapers covered the entire surface of her acrylic coffee table. Dishes were piled high in the sink.
She shook her head at her own messiness and slumped inside the bedroom, which was messier than the living room. Her bed looked like a landfill of multicolored fabrics. The mirrored headboard and nightstands were covered in dust. Makeup, shoes and a few things that she couldn’t even make out were randomly splayed everywhere.
Devon groaned and marched in a zigzag line toward the bathroom, avoiding rejected outfits thrown on the floor from that morning. She showered and threw on a ratty oversized T-shirt, then sat down at her silver metal desk and pried open her laptop.
Before Devon got to work on the outline for her African arts festival article, she clicked on her computer’s desktop and opened the folder titled DREAMS. She double-clicked the MY FUTURE document and waited a few seconds for the presentation to appear on the screen. When it did, her tired eyes lit up.
The first page was a photo of Los Angeles’s Hollywood sign. The second contained an image of a sunny, palm-tree-lined street in Beverly Hills. The third was a picture of a major movie studio, and the fourth was a photograph of Devon’s favorite luxury apartment building located in L.A.’s Beverly Grove neighborhood. The fifth was the synopsis of a teleplay she’d been working on for the past several months about the woes of dating in the digital age. And the last slide was a photo of Jason.
Her expression softened as she wiggled in her chair. Devon flipped through the presentation a few more times, relishing in her digital dream board. These pages represented the blueprint of her life goals. But Devon had no idea how she’d actually make any of them happen considering California was such a long way away; she didn’t have any television writing experience, and she’d yet to tell Jason how she felt.
“Wishful thinking at its finest,” Devon sighed, closing out the presentation and pulling a king-size chocolate and caramel bar from her drawer.
Just when she tore open the wrapper and bit into the sweet, gooey goodness, Lisa’s voice popped in her head.
You’d get a man much faster if you slimmed down…
Devon quickly dismissed the thought and licked her fingers, promising herself she’d start her diet on Monday.
End of Excerpt