And sure enough: “You know, Molly is the spitting image of me at seventeen. But, of course, I was very thin at that age.”
She loves to bring that up, too.
“I used to be a model for Macy’s department store. Can you believe it?”
“Oh, wow,” Mina says.
“And I always tell Molly: you’re a little zaftig, of course, but you have a lovely face. Isn’t she lovely?”
“Definitely,” Mina says, nodding, but Patty says, “Mom, stop it,” in this warning tone. So, Grandma makes a big show of snapping her mouth shut and winking at me.
And I think I might cry. I might actually cry. I can’t believe I’m sitting at this table, pretending things are normal while my grandmother calls me fat. Right to my face. I know what zaftig means. She’s even called me that before. But saying it in front of Cassie’s gorgeous new girlfriend makes it a million times worse.
“You know, my friend Sylvia’s granddaughter is at Columbia,” Grandma says quietly, leaning in close. “She’s a beautiful girl. Her name is Esther.”
Grandma rests a hand on my elbow. “In New York. You know, Columbia’s in Manhattan, dear. And in New York, they have this exercise program. I think it’s on the DVD. And Esther just puts it on and does it right in her dorm room.”
“She just loves it.”
I nod slowly. I think every cell in my body freezes in place. I notice Cassie and Mina are listening in.
“You should think about it, mamaleh. You know. I’ll tell you what I wish someone had told me,” she says. “It gets harder and harder to lose.”
Grandma does this sometimes. Half the time she’s totally cool, and half the time she makes me want to disappear.
“When you’re young, it’s easy,” she continues. “Just be a little more careful. Leave half of everything on your plate. And you should talk to Esther! She really loves her program. You know, she lost twenty pounds?”
“And now she has a boyfriend.”
Cassie swallows a chunk of turkey and drops her fork with a clatter. “Yeah, no. That’s not okay.”
My cheeks are burning. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine.” She raises her voice. “Grandma, stop saying this shit to Molly. You can’t. I’m sorry. You can’t talk to her like that.”
“Molly doesn’t mind, right?” Grandma says, patting my arm.
“I don’t mind,” I say.
“Yes, you do,” Cassie says quietly.
And I do. It’s seriously stupid, but I do mind. It’s just that every time Grandma says this stuff, I freeze up.
But now Nadine and Patty have caught wind of the conversation. “Mom, stop it. We’ve talked about this.”
“I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“This isn’t helpful.”
“Patricia, it’s a health issue. You know that.”
“Betty,” Nadine says, setting her fork down. She glances at Patty.
Cassie presses her foot against mine under the table, but I can barely process it. I feel hot and cold all at once. It’s hard to explain.
I mean, I know I’m fat. It’s not a secret. Kyle Donner used to whisper the word gorda in my ear every day of eighth-grade Spanish. And once, Danielle Aldred asked me if I was worried I’d crush a guy during sex. In seventh grade. She actually asked that.
So, I should be used to it. Still, it always throws me a little bit when people say stuff about my body. I guess I want to believe no one notices I’m fat. Or that I’m somehow pretty and fat all at once, like a Torrid model. I don’t know.
Anyway, Cassie’s still fuming, and Mina’s staring awkwardly at her plate, and now Patty is escorting Grandma into the living room. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but I can hear snippets of Grandma’s replies. Small portions. Something to think about.
“Let’s pretend that didn’t just happen,” Cassie says, shaking her head.
“Want to help me clear the table, Momo?” Nadine asks.
I nod and start stacking plates. Nadine wraps me in a one-armed hug as soon as I step into the kitchen. “Hey. You okay?”
“That was some pretty fucked-up shit from Grandma. Don’t even listen to her, okay?” She shakes her head. “Let it roll off your back.”
Mina starts bringing in plates and dishes, even though Nadine tells her to go relax. But she insists on helping. It’s that dance people do. Like when I was little, and we’d go to restaurants with our relatives, and Nadine and Uncle Albert would argue over the check. Abby and I thought it was the funniest thing. Our parents would go back and forth, more and more insistently, and MY GOD. YOU FREAKING GROWN-UPS. IT’S A FREE MEAL. LET IT HAPPEN. But I get it now. Maybe I’m more of an adult than I realized.
Cassie follows behind Mina, holding Xavier. “So, Molly made us cookie dough in mason jars,” she says. She opens the fridge to show Mina.
“Oh my God. You made these?”
I smile shyly.
“Aren’t they so cute?” She sets Xav down, holding his hands up while he toddles. “Like, if it was me, I’d have put a big glob of it in a Ziploc bag and been like here you go.”
“It was super easy,” I say.
“This is literally the greatest dessert I have ever seen,” Mina says, looking awed.
We end up carrying all the jars and a bunch of spoons into the living room, and I feel my cheeks go red when I see Grandma. Like, now I’m supposed to eat dessert in front of her. Though there’s a part of me that wants to plant myself beside her and make her watch me do it. Dare her to say something.
But it’s cool to see how excited Mina is about the cookie dough. Sometimes it’s so easy, I almost feel bad. Honestly, the secret to impressing people is this: individual portions, packaged in mason jars. I even remembered to leave room on top for vanilla ice cream.
I squeeze all the way up against the armrest of the couch to make room for Cassie and Mina. Except it ends up being pointless. They kind of perch there for five minutes, until Cassie says she has a book she needs to find for Mina.
Funny how this task seems to require both of them.
Even funnier how they come down half an hour later, with no book.