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Jessica was sat on the floor of Nat’s guest bedroom, knees pulled up to her chest, shaking hands clutching the black notebook, tears streaking her soft skin.
Nat was lying awake in his bed, duvet pulled up to his neck, unable to quiet his racing mind. An array of thoughts flashed through his mind, each shouting over the other, begging to be heard. There was the weeks detention he had received earlier that day, that awkward almost moment with Jess that had left him feeling more confused than ever, his football match next week, the homework he had yet to do. Not only that but he could also hear Jess on the other side of the thin walls.
She was crying. He could tell she was trying to be quiet by the weird half gasps and choked sobs that escaped irregularly. It broke his heart to think he was probably to blame.
After he couldn’t take it anymore, he climbed out of bed, bare feet causing the floorboards to creek as he padded out of his bedroom and into the dimly lit hallway. The sounds were louder now. He tiptoed the short distance to the next room and used his fingertips to push the door open. Nat stepped inside the dark room.
The second Jess noticed him she gasped, hastily wiping away her tears and attempting to stuff the notebook underneath the bed.
Nat was quicker though and in a few short paces he was across the room, the book now clutched in his own hands. Nat sat down on the floor next to Jess.
Jess sobbed at the prospect of him reading what she wrote. Fear clutching at her already erratically beating heart.
“Please don’t.” Jess choked. Nat ignored her. He pulled at the black ribbon marking her place and the book fluttered open. With the book open in his lap, Nat was met with an assault of numbers and insults.
The numbers and sums were all in neat rows and columns whereas the insults were scribbled over the top, layers of ink viciously attacking the paper.
Nat squinted at the pages while Jess sniffled and hiccupped beside him, her arms wrapped around herself defensively.
Nat’s heart sank the second he realised what she had written.
Calories. Fat content.
She was calculating what she had eaten that day. And though the total number of 1226 seemed a little too low to Nat, to Jess it had seemed like the end of the world.
The insults scattered across the page all sang a similar song.
FAT. DISGUSTING. WEAK. PATHETIC. NO CONTROL.
The insults turned Nat’s stomach. The though of anyone ever saying those things to Jess was enough, but for her to say them to herself? That was more than Nat could handle.
He slammed the book shut.
Taking a deep breath and trying to compose himself, Nat turned to face Jess. Tears were still falling down her unhappy face. Big, blue eyes pleading with him. For what, he didn’t know.
“I’m sorry.” Jess sniffled. Nat gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile and reached for her hand, but she shook her head.
Nat nodded understandingly.
“Jess,” Nat started, taking another deep breath. He looked deep into her teary eyes, crystal blue meeting olive green. “tell me what happened.” Jess shook her head and looked down, ashamed. Nat knew she hated talking about how she felt but he didn’t see how she could avoid it this time.
“KitKat,” Nat pleaded, using the nickname he’d kept for her since they were kids. Jess looked up at the word and searched his face, looking for a sign that she could trust him.
She found it.
Jess began to recount the pressure she had felt to eat the slice of chocolate cake Nat’s own mother had offered her and then the guilt that followed shortly after. How she had calculated her daily calories and felt disgusted with herself for being so weak. How her hand had moved of its own accord as she hurled insult after insult at herself. She apologised countless times while Nat reassured her, she had done nothing wrong.
“KitKat, you’re sick. You need help.” Nat had said gently. Jess’s face twisted into one of fear and shock as she shook her head vehemently in disagreement.
“No, no, I’m not. I’m fine.” Jess babbled while Nat had given her a soft look that had made her want to slap him and collapse into his arms all at once.
Even though she knew, deep down, that he was right, and she was petrified, she couldn’t bring herself to admit that. Somehow the prospect of admitting she had a problem was scarier than the problem itself. Because admitting she had a problem, meant she would have to face it. And, as sick as it sounded, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet.
“You’re not fine, KitKat. You know you’re not. But” Nat pauses for a brief second, not wanting to scare her too much. “we can get you help.” Jess shook her head violently. Why was this his business? Why did it even matter to him?
“I’m not sick, Nate. I don’t need help.” Jess said her voice low and firm if a bit shaky. Nat flinched slightly as she called him Nate. Jess had only ever called him Nat except when she was extremely mad. Nat knew her well enough to know that pushing her any further would only result in them fighting and it taking longer to get her help.
Nat gave her a small smile and a nod. His olive eyes scanned her distraught face, and he felt his heart break for her a little.
The pair sat in silence, save for Jess’s occasional sniffling. Nat racked his brain looking for a way to help his best friend and the girl he had undoubtedly fallen in love with.
He found himself, much to Jess’s surprise, picking the notebook up once again. He stared down at the pages while Jess watched him curiously. She felt naked. That notebook told everything, her insecurities, all her weaknesses. It was all in there. And now he was going to see it. She felt completely exposed. He was seeing a side of her she had spent so long hiding from the world. She felt like he was seeing a part of her no one else ever would. And, in a way, he was. Jess had never, and would never, allow anyone else to see this side of her. Her vulnerable side. All her anxieties, all her flaws and secret shames brought to light.
It was, in a word, terrifying.
Nat flicked back a few pages, studying each word, each sum, like that little book held the answers to the universe. Like it was a complicated riddle he needed to solve.
Nat stared in disbelief as days and days of Jess’s life were reduced to nothing more than numbers on a page. He scanned his eyes over Jess’s weight tracker and held back tears himself as the numbers grew smaller and smaller. He noticed that not only did she obsessively weigh herself every day, sometimes multiple times, she also measured every part of herself, noting even the tiniest of changes.
It was, in a word, terrifying.
He looked from the book in his hand to the girl at his side and for a second he couldn’t breathe. He loved this girl and yet he’d never noticed how much pain she was really in. Guilt clouded the corners of his vision like a thick fog and he gripped the book in his hands like it was the only thing stopping him falling off the edge of the world.
His heart hurt for the girl next to him. In that moment, if there was any way to take her pain and put it on himself, he would.
“Why?” Was all Nat said as he returned his searching gaze to Jess. Jess looked anguished. She looked so scared and so sad and so confused, Nat thought she might break.
Jess shrugged her shoulder heavily. “I don’t know.” It summed up how she felt perfectly. In that she didn’t know how she felt or why she felt like that. She knew weight didn’t matter, she knew no matter how much weight she lost her mother would never love her unconditionally, she knew that eating one slice of cake wouldn’t end the world, and it wouldn’t make her gain 30 lbs either. That’s why this was so confusing. She would never chastise anyone else for eating a slice of chocolate cake, nor would she say the things she says to herself to anyone else. And if anyone told her they ate as little as she did, she’d be marching them straight to the nearest café herself.
So why was she sat on the floor of her best friend’s house at 2:30 AM crying over a slice of chocolate cake?
A slice of stupid chocolate cake.
It was ridiculous, even Jess could see that. but that didn’t take away all the fear and anxiety, and it didn’t alleviate any of the guilt she felt. That didn’t take away how much she hated what she saw in the mirror, how much she hated herself.
Jess looked up, ocean eyes meeting Nat’s once again.
“I don’t know.”