A Numbers Game

Listen to Samina Kaushek read her story:

We are in his car. “Bell, I’m starving. Want to go for a burger or pizza?”

I panic. Pizza. 285 calories per slice. Burgers. Harder to estimate. Could be anywhere from 400 to 1,000. Stop it, Bella. Be normal. Go on a date with your boyfriend, and be normal. Eat the food. Smile. Be normal.

“Anything is fine! I’m not picky,” I tell him.

“Let’s do pizza. I know this place a few blocks down that makes the best pepperoni pizza, I promise.”

“Can’t wait! That sounds so good right now.”

I hold his hand as he drives. He talks about sports, school, and drama with his parents, but I hear nothing. All I can think about are numbers. 40 more calories if we get pepperoni. What if I get a salad? 245. Is that weird? I can say I had a stomach bug a couple of weeks ago . . . Stop it. Be normal. Be a typical high schooler who eats pepperoni pizza. Wait, that’s normal, right?

We arrive at the restaurant and join our friends. I watch Natalie take a slice of gooey pizza. She wipes the oil from her face and adds more parmesan cheese. 23 calories. “Oh my god, Bella. This is so good. But I don’t know if you can afford to eat it with a gorgeous body like that.”

As she says this, my boyfriend squeezes my waist and leans in for a kiss. My face turns bright red. My stomach rumbles loudly.

“Wow, you’re hungry,” he says to me. “Let’s get in line.”

Our friends laugh, and I join them. “Haha, yeah.”

After ordering, we sit, and he fills the awkward silence by asking me questions. “How are you? How’s track? Are you excited for summer?” I can barely speak. How many calories did I burn on my run? 584, or was it 604? Add 210 from the granola bar I ate afterward. I concentrate on the movement of his lips. But I can’t hear what he is saying until I do the math. 584-210 = 374.

“Bell, are you listening?”

As he says this, I realize the lust that was once there has turned into loss. My loss. Of being able to concentrate on him. Of being a normal teenager, being free. Now all I can think about is the smell of the garlic bread at a table nearby. An obese woman and her son are eating slices of olive pizza.

He notices my uneasiness and shifts to talking about his life. While I listen, I feel my abs under my shirt. Still there. Tomorrow, I will exercise an hour more. Eat 325, burn 325. It’s simple. Calm down. It’s all under control.

Our meal arrives at the table. “Oh yeah, baby,” he says, grabbing a slice. He scarfs it.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” he asks, grease—14 calories—dripping onto his napkin as he takes another bite.

“Oh yeah, sorry. Of course.” Carefully, I pick up a slice and stare at the pieces of pepperoni filled with oil as if I can see my imperfections in their reflection. Breathe. Be normal. Do it. I take a bite. 32 calories. I swallow. I breathe.

Read the other prize-winning works from the Fifth Annual “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:

My Rickshaw” by Anna Buryachenko
The Black Hole” by Patience Wallace