By: Donna Cooner

I’m starving. All I had to eat today for lunch was a salad and an orange. Of course that didn’t include the three Snickers I stuffed down one after another in the bathroom stall between fifth and sixth periods, or the Little Debbie Honey Buns I bought from the vending machine when I was supposed to be at the library. I try to hide the actual eating part from almost everyone, especially the bad stuff that I’m not supposed to eat, because everyone knows the fat girl is going to devour the big chocolate sundae with the sprinkles on top, right? It’s expected.

Publicly, at the school lunchroom table, I eat salads and fruit. But secretively I continually push enough food into my body to result in my current weight. That’s a lot of secrets to swallow. It’s harder to keep the pretense up at home. I pick up a blueberry muffin off the countertop and cram a quick bite in while I look for the plate in the pantry. Charlotte frowns at me. I know what she’s thinking just by her glance.

“Do you really need that muffin, too? You’re going to eat dinner,” Skinny hisses.

Charlotte isn’t a bad person, and she obviously loves my dad. She just isn’t my mom. Her blond hair is perfectly cut into a mooth bob of highlighted strands. Hair spray, a straightening iron, mousse, gel, and lots of time are required to get to this final look. She also never leaves the house without makeup. It’s a rule. My mom’s idea of makeup was the tiny bit of shiny clear lip gloss she put on before she left for the store. It’s different now.

“Is Dad here?” I ask.

“He’s going to be late. Go ahead and eat without him,” Charlotte says. She rinses off a spoon in the sink and opens up the dishwasher to stick it inside. “I’ll keep it warm and eat with him when he gets here.”

Not a big surprise. Dad works late a lot. He’s a Walker County Sheriff, and he’s been pretty busy lately. Last week, Bubba Rose pleaded guilty to attempted felony theft after Dad caught him stuffing a lead weight in a fish during a tournament at Lake Conroe in an attempt to win the grand prize, a fifty-five-thousand-dollar fishing boat. What can I say? Fishing is serious here in Texas. The week before that Dad helped catch an escaped prisoner who had broken out more than seventy times to go shop across the street at the Walmart.

I push the rest of the muffin into my mouth, crumbs dribbling down my shirt, and carry a fully loaded plate of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy over to the table. I sit down next to Briella. She glances over at me, looking pointedly at the food on my plate. I know what she’s thinking, too. I know what everyone is thinking about me. All I have to do is listen to the voice in my ear.

“How can anyone possibly eat all that? And you wonder why you are huge?”

I take an enormous bite of mashed potatoes and gravy, looking directly at my stepsister. She rolls her eyes at me.

“Where’s Lindsey?” Charlotte asks.

“I don’t know,” I mumble around a huge bite, the gravy dripping down my chin. But even though I just walked in the door, I do know. Everyone knows. She’s in front of the mirror in her room, applying a final coat of mascara or lip gloss or hair gel. As head cheerleader, she’s like God. And no one disturbs God on the evening of the Friday pep rally. Especially when it’s the night before the basketball playoff game.

I break off a piece of meat loaf with my fingers and slide it under the table. It’s snatched from my hand.

“Ever, do not feed that goat from the table,” Charlotte says.

She is referring to Roxanne, our chocolate Lab puppy. The goat dog, as Charlotte prefers to call her, is in trouble because she got into the pantry yesterday and ate two kiwis, a raw potato, and most of a pound of sugar. The rest of the sugar was scattered across the kitchen floor in a fine layer of gritty carpet that we’ll still be feeling weeks from now. Roxanne also chewed up a hardback book from Charlotte’s library, ate her fur headband, and put holes in her black tights. I didn’t tell Charlotte I’d also seen Roxanne standing on the dining-room table last week, licking the wooden top. Roxanne and I have to stick together. Neither one of us is on Charlotte’s list of favorite things.

Charlotte frowns down at her coffee cup as she refills it at the kitchen counter. No matter what time of the day it is, Charlotte usually has a cup of coffee in her perfectly manicured hand.

“She hates you,” Skinny says. “She wishes you weren’t here.”

I finish up the mashed potatoes and take a bite of the meat loaf. Briella is still texting, her food sitting untouched on the table.

“Have you done your homework?” Charlotte asks. I know she’s not asking me, so I ignore her. Briella makes a noise that’s supposed to sound like a yes but can later be said to be a no. I glance her way, but she doesn’t raise her eyes from the phone in her lap. It doesn’t matter. Based on Rat’s information about her English assignment, she’ll be looking for me soon enough.