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  • We had talked about it earlier that day. We had noticed it actually a lot earlier, I have to admit now; I just thought she wanted to get in better shape for prom. She really wanted Rex to take her with him. She had thrown up today in the school bathroom, and we had all been there to hear. Even then, it would've been fine except that I had caught Jen glancing sideways at me in the mirror, then she looked up and caught my reflection, and neither of us could really look away after that. It was done then. And Meg was just a casualty at the sink next to us, wrong place, wrong time; our anxiety was contagious. So we decided to meet here tonight to reasonably discuss the situation. After all, it just isn't acceptable to ignore a suffering friend.
     
    Jen and I are in the family room. She's on the opposite side of the room, in the rocking chair by the window, mutely fingering the rim of her coke bottle, and I'm on the old-person recliner near the bookshelf, hands cupped together resting in the crook formed by my crossed legs. I realize I'm tracing tiny patterns into my palms with my nails and immediately stuff my hands under my butt; I fidget way too much. I focus on the TV, following Jen, and we comfortably take in the images as we wait. Because of course we can't start without Meg. The door clicks open and Jen jumps just a little. My hands are getting damp under my butt so I shove them back in my lap.
     
    "Hey guys, sorry I'm late. Bad Traffic. Brought the good stuff, though. What did I miss?" Her arrival-smile sweeps over first me, then smoothly over to Jen as she tosses her alligator-skin bad onto the table with a flourish of her hand, and gracefully reclines into the love seat located between us. There's a thick pause in the room as Jen and I blink frantically to catch up.
     
    Meg's moving again. She plucks out the 6-pack, bends her wrists and twists her body and head almost dramatically at controlled angles to tear each can from the rest and pop open one for herself. It's fascinating to watch her; I swear it's like she glides through everything.
     
    Jen's staring at Meg. She's isn't as fast to recover as I am. "Something wrong?" Meg places her palm to her face and smiles as if to apologize. She doesn't really think anything's wrong, though, cause she doesn't look down or away or reach for the mirror we all know is never far, probably just in her purse. I wonder for the millionth time who my friend's performing for.
     
    Jen blushes and her eyes dart to a few random spots in the room before coming back. "No, sorry, nothing, just. Blanked out." She jerks forward for one of the beers, noisily dragging it across the table and opening it before molding back into her black leather rocker. It matches her black hair. "Bad traffic, huh?" she says, at the same time I come in with "So, what should we do about it?"
     
    The silence slips out of our hands for only a moment before Meg returns with a tight grin, "I'm really shocked. Can you believe it?" She takes a sip and looks back and forth between us. I realize that's all she's to say and automatically open my mouth to take my turn. I'm relieved when Jen speaks first.
     
    "I always thought she just wanted to get healthier. You know her mom's a health nut."
     
    Meg agrees, "Yeah, and she was looking really hot. I told her so." A commercial comes on for the new Neutrogena Ageless Triple Renewal Facial Cleanser. A laughing, bright-eyed bride floats in slow motion across a foggy-white room with the voice of the narrator over-played—that voice that somehow manages to sound high and smiling while also being deep and sultry: Just another reason why it's the happiest day of her life.
     
    And then, naturally, the game throws the ball at me to whack, straight at my face. "She got sick for a while after that too, and stressed out with MacReale’s Career Project." They nod eagerly, satisfied.
     
    "Her mom puts pressure on her all the time, of course," Jen sits now with her legs curled all the way up, hiding her chest. "To be healthy."
     
    Meg swallows the mouthful of Cheetos, daintily licking orange powder off the tips of her fingers. "And her dad," her tongue slicks across her lower lip, "typical absentee, must be."
     
    The mechanical noise of a closing garage door attracts our imploring heads swiftly to the back of the house. I have to bend my head almost entirely upside down, and the angle is slightly painful, but I hold it there because it seems to ease another pain on the other side; I didn't even know I had that pain. Jen's mom's sudden laughter plugs the room back up. The clang of her fancy heels follows and the door opens. "Hello sweeties! How are all of you? Oh, have I interrupted a party?" She comes up behind Meg and throws her tailored designer jacket over the back of the love seat. She blows a hello-kiss across the room to her daughter, then, "Meg! Honey, you've grown into such a pretty girl," she says, her wide eyes stroking Meg up and down. I think it's an odd picture, Meg sitting below with her head bent backwards, looking up as Jen's mom hovers above, grinning. I smile. The dad appears in the picture then. I don't know how I missed him before; he's always near around this time.
     
    "She's right," he says and takes the seat next to Meg, "you're parents must be so proud." His arm goes up to the top of the love seat, between Meg and Jen's mom. His lips smile at Meg. She offers him a beer, which fits perfectly with his worn jeans and over-large jacket. If she hadn't, I would've done it. "No thanks, just heading back to bed for the night." He stands and goes to kiss Jen goodnight, then comes around to lovingly butt-pat his wife before heading to the bedroom. Jen's mom passes her hands over her gorgeous, skin-tight, black dress, straightening it out or brushing something off. She tells us good night and exits into the office room. Within moments we can hear her shuffling around, and feel the vibrations of furniture being readjusted.
     
    "She needs to fix things up before going to bed. I think it's calming for her," Jen apologizes. Meg enters with an anecdote about her own mom's obsessive cleaning habits. This bugs me, so I jump in.
     
    "You know, she cleaned up around the toilet after she puked." It could've been funny, except they didn't laugh.
     
    "This is a serious issue, you know. You don't understand what the home environment is like, what pressures there must be to create the low self-esteem," Jen rationally chastises.
     
    "Home environment…?"
     
    "Yes, home." Meg begins. "We can't know everything in her head, what made her that way. She's a perfectionist, control--they say those people have control issues, the standards, the pressures…" It wasn't yelling yet but her harsh, strangled words seemed to bite me, like that time right after you run your knee into a table corner and you can do absolutely nothing but wait and wait for the moment the pain finally explodes out of you. And just as stupidly as you inevitably grab your knee and press more pressure down on the bubbling spot, Jen tries to drown out Meg's voice.
     
    "Yeah, interfering would probably make it worse anyway. We can't know what to do."
     
    "Of course we…"
     
    "No! We can't know, with all that insecurity. Anger and sadness jumbled up inside, and shame. Shame. And total confusion, and you think we can understand this? Fuck it..." Meg’s eyes skirt over the floor, "we'd just fuck it up. We can't pretend with this. Best to let the counselor know."
     
    Meg's fallen back in her seat now, her hand has pulled a few waves of hair onto her chest and she's idly patting the hair down, open-palmed. She's not so furious now, but still upset, and Jen's eyes are clear but slightly cross-eyed as she looks at Meg and then me; I know they can't see me now. But still I feel ashamed. I'm sweating. My hands at sometime had returned to grabbing my butt. My butt's sweaty too.
     
    It's gotten late and on the TV slides the picture of a slim and smooth exotic female, lying supine on top of a bed while chatting something suggestive on the phone. It's one of those old corded phones. It gives them something to toy with while they're lying there.
     
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