The Weight We Carry
A standalone Love We Find novel.
The journey from friends to lovers is hard enough without baggage.
At twenty-four, Brady Whittington is stuck in a post-college rut, working a dead-end job and as single as they come. With every month that goes by, he’s falling further behind in the race to adulthood. Now, his comfort-food habit is packing the pounds onto his already ample frame. As the numbers on the scale climb, his self-confidence plummets. He’s given up on himself, convinced he’ll never land a career in his field or a boyfriend.
Josh Meyer hasn’t had an easy life. Cruelly outed by his high school girlfriend, he fled home, never to look back. Now he has a great job, good friends, Grindr hookups, and a fantastic roommate in Brady. Who needs more? But when his friend starts to pull away, Josh is forced to reevaluate the role Brady plays in his life.
When Brady asks for Josh’s help to lose weight, their running regimen draws the two even closer. Slowly, Brady builds up the endurance he needs to chase after Josh, but Josh’s past and his own self-esteem issues keep tossing out hurdles. If they want the future they’ve been dreaming of, they’ll both need to shed the real weight they’re carrying.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Sexual Assault (in the past)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Josh’s fingertips dug into my shoulder as he marched me to my execution. The manner of my death—a painstakingly selected stack of denim and “fun but not too flashy” XXL shirts.
“Would you stop making that face?”
The corners of my mouth lost all structure at Josh’s chastising tone. When he wasn’t plotting death blows to my fledgling self-esteem, Josh Meyer doubled as my roommate and best friend.
“You’re going to look amazing.”
On the surface, Josh had the terminal optimism that rivaled most motivational speakers. After six years, I knew better. Don’t get me wrong: Josh was the best. He was generous, intelligent, and hardworking . . . but complicated. I liked to think we’d gotten past the need for him to mat talk me through this shopping trip, but here we were.
His perpetually sunny disposition didn’t bother me unless I thought he was forcing it, which he did occasionally, or I was irritable. And since I’d spent yet another month wasting my hard-earned degree as a glorified receptionist–slash–administrative assistant, irritable had been my default setting.
In the competition for things that annoyed me, Josh’s enthusiasm met its match at the back of a platinum-blonde woman in a skirt so short I wondered how she sat. She sorted through clothes, bobbed her head, and swayed to the in-store music. Her long ponytail oscillated back and forth like a pendulum ticking away moments of her obliviousness. I exchanged an amused acknowledgment with Josh, and when I rolled my eyes, Josh cleared his throat to cover my snicker.
She turned, and her eyes flew past me to focus on Josh. Typical.
“Oh. Hey.” She dropped her shoulder and pushed it forward, gaping her v-shaped neckline and expanding our view of her ample cleavage. Unashamed, I looked. Josh didn’t. He still carried some PTSD-like reactions to boobs. Not for the first time, I wondered why, but he hated talking about his straight-high-school-football-star days, and I respected that.
On the other hand, I liked them. I didn’t want to grope them or anything, but they sort of mesmerized me, and sometimes I fought the urge to bat them like a cat with a piece of string.
“He has twelve items.” Josh flashed his toothy smile standing right next to the sign that declared the limit was six.
She swooned, and I involuntarily scoffed, which might have been joined by a muttered, “For fuck’s sake,” or something equally inappropriate. I’d tired of Josh’s “too pretty for rules” nonsense, and honestly, I had zero control over my mouth. Not what came out of it and certainly not what went into it.
Two glares—one confused (Blondie) and one irritated (Josh)—turned my direction. I shifted the clothes to my left hand, taking a second to wiggle my fingers and restore the blood flow to my right. Fat jeans weighed a fuck-ton. Rolling my eyes, I pointed to the sign.
“Oh,” Josh drawled, then smiled again, his eyes wide and innocent, before dragging his lower lip between his irritatingly straight and white teeth. “What’s your name?”
“Misty.” She giggled, and the sharp jab of Josh’s elbow landed into my ribs, cutting off my annoyed huff midexhale. I coughed, and a little phlegm flew out of my mouth and landed on one of the shirts I surprisingly didn’t loathe. Totally worth ruining the last one like that in my size to see how far apart Misty’s eyes would go. Impressive.
“My friend has a big date in less than twelve hours. Do you think you might help us out and let us take these back to the dressing room?”
She glanced at me briefly with an ambiguous wave of her hand, like she didn’t care what I did, as long as I removed myself from her presence. Which, I would’ve happily obliged were it not for the fact that Josh’s eyeballs were warning me not to leave him alone with her.
“What about you? Do you have a date tonight?” Her eyes locked on Josh and I knew I couldn’t abandon him. When Josh flirted with girls, he wasn’t interested in bending anything but the rules, but Misty clearly hadn’t picked up on that.
Man or woman, young or old—Josh flirted. They always flirted back. The earth revolved around the sun. So on and so on. The only one spared from his charm offensive seemed to be me.
My stomach gurgled, and Misty scowled in my direction. I hadn’t eaten in preparation for this little self-flagellation, and a belly like mine tended to get a bit pissy when deprived of regular meals.
Her sardonic expression blossomed. Ugh. Of all the ways I’d been put down over the years, that look of revulsion still cut. If Josh’s stomach growled, she’d rub his belly and offer to make him a sandwich, but my stomach she treated like an IED about to explode.
“I just need a new shirt. I have jeans.” I launched the jeans at Misty, but Josh’s ninja reflexes snatched them back and pushed them against my chest.
“You cannot wear your jeans tonight. They are way too baggy. He won’t be able to see your ass.” Josh’s voice gained an octave and the sheer horror he displayed at my fashion choices sent out red flares of gay.
“Oh,” Misty breathed, and her expression landed somewhere between hard-ass professional and bona fide mean girl. “He’s right. The limit is six.”
Josh pouted, more at me than at Misty, but Josh’s puppy-dog eyes were gender neutral in their effectiveness.
Misty’s stance softened. “But there are two of you . . .” she hedged. Don’t give in, Misty. “So, I guess you could each take back six items.” She freed two plastic door hangers that bore a large number six on them. “Let me know if you need anything.”
I snatched the tags from her hand and beelined for the last dressing room—the accessible stall, which I know, I know . . . However, mild claustrophobia is a disability. Besides, none of the other rooms had a place to sit, and we’d been walking and standing for hours. I tossed the jeans on the floor and hung the shirts on one of the three hooks opposite the mirror. As I sat, Josh’s feet appeared under the stall door accompanied by a firm knock. “Brady, let me in.”
“No way,” I insisted. “If I’m doing this, I’m doing it alone.”
“Fine. But show me each pair. Your ass is thick. You need to show it off.”
Sighing, I stood and turned to check out my backside in the mirror. In most circles, thick implied muscular. Josh’s perky cheeks, for example, were firm and round and probably had sexy dimples on them when he flexed. My ass dimples were courtesy of cellulite. I unbuckled my belt, removed my shirt, and lowered my pants and, in an afterthought, my boxers. My task had zero use for bulky underwear. I tugged at and stretched my skin, but a Shar-Pei puppy had a better chance of pulling off a tight body.
What a ridiculous way to waste an afternoon. The jeans wouldn’t fit. My ass hadn’t been squeezed into a size forty-two in well over a year. The last time I’d tried, it required a prolonged fast, a thorough cleanse, and a warped sort of gymnastics to get them on. There remained one lonely pair in the someday pile in the back of my closet. Josh had always complimented me when I wore them, and I’d paid a small fortune for them, so I saved them in case I was lucky enough to contract a tapeworm or some tropical disease like dysentery. Is dysentery a tropical disease? I wasn’t sure. Regardless, forty-two was solidly in the “need a life-threatening illness to fit” category now.
I picked up the first pair and held them to my body, lifted my left leg, and slid it into the pants. The fabric pulled tight at my calf, and I inserted my right leg, then yanked at the denim. About midthigh, my legs bore an uncanny resemblance to sausages, and flab overflowed from the top. The blood flow cut off as I wiggled the fabric over my ass, and the zipper teeth bit into my skin while I struggled to protect the essential parts of my anatomy. Inhaling deeply, I tugged as hard as I could to bring the button to its hole. Within seconds, I was sweating profusely and still inches from my goal. I squatted to stretch the fabric, and an ominous ripping sound stole the last vestiges of my dignity.
No. No. NOOO.
I braced my hand on the wall and hovered midsquat, mouthing curse words. My thighs burned, and I tried to straighten my legs to minimize the damage, praying there was some defect in the fabric to blame.
One glance down and the herniated fat pushing through the inner thigh of the heavy denim gave me my answer. I closed my eyes, lost my balance, and collapsed onto the small triangular seat with a thud. Another prolonged ripping noise pierced my soul like a knife.
I stared at the pale, fleshy blob sandwiched between jagged denim edges with disgust. How had I let this happen? I didn’t have some trauma in my life I could point to and say, That! That’s why I have no willpower. That’s why I don’t take care of myself.
My previous go-to excuse had also expired. I’d mostly grown out of the childhood asthma that had put the kibosh on sports, and I’d ceased the daily steroid breathing treatments before high school. Face it. You’re lazy and have a weak character.
Slouching my five-foot-ten frame, I forced my abdominal rolls into tangible evidence to justify my self-loathing and jiggled it, wondering how much longer I had before I’d be one of those poor saps who couldn’t reach his own dick to jerk off.
A knock at the door startled me— “C’mon. I want to see. I know you have the first pair on.” Ugh. Josh.
“Almost,” I lied and rolled the denim down. I folded the jeans to hide the rip and yanked on my own jeans.
Josh huffed an inpatient sigh. “Christ, Brady. I can see your legs.”
I flung open the door. Josh’s face flashed irritation, then melted into concern. He opened his mouth, probably to say something encouraging, but I held up my hand.
“This is pointless. They aren’t gonna fit, Josh. I need a forty-four.” Actually, a forty-six because I preferred baggy clothes these days, but why quibble over semantics? The shredded jeans had become a metaphor for his fantasy of me walking out of the mall with a date-perfect outfit.
“Why didn’t you say so?” Josh’s face brightened. Too brightly. That was his I can fix this look. “I’ll go grab them.” Before I could object, he scurried away. Surely, he . . . Well, no. I guess he wouldn’t have any experience with a store not having his size. I debated letting him figure it out on his own, but after considering the likelihood that Misty would be involved in sorting it out, decided against it.
Josh rotated toward me. “Why?”
My humiliation rose to the surface, choking off my words. Josh’s carefree smile dimmed, and the second he realized I wasn’t okay he stepped toward me. “What’s wrong?”
I glanced around the empty dressing room and jerked my arm in a come-here motion. Josh returned to me, the usual bounce in his step noticeably absent. I tugged him inside the dressing room, and the momentum sent him stumbling into me. When he reached out to steady himself, a surprised breath sweetened by the fruit smoothie Josh had earlier mingled with my own.
“Sorry.” Josh’s hands slipped lower on my hips. Our eyes met, and a little spark of awareness sent a shiver up my spine. For a brief moment his expression changed, almost like he . . .
I shook my head to remove the thoughts. The lack of food was making me hallucinate. “No problem.” Josh released me, and I took a step back as my brain returned from fantasyland to real life.
Josh cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. “What’s up?”
“They don’t have a forty-four, Josh. This is the largest size they carry in this store.”
Admirably resisting his urge to be optimistic, Josh accepted my declaration with a furrowed brow and pursed lips. “Since when?”
I guffawed. “Since forever. Most stores in the mall don’t carry my size, which is why I’m gonna wear what I usually do. It won’t matter anyway. This guy isn’t going to be interested in me. I’m not good at dating. We’re going to dinner, so I’ll spend money I don’t have to eat a salad with kale or some shit like that and talk about the gym, so he’ll think maybe I’m trying to do something about myself.” Shame burned my cheeks as I detailed my inevitable humiliation. Josh’s eyes bugged out at my rambling, but I kept going, frustrated that he didn’t understand how hard dating was for me.
“Meanwhile, I’ll spill something on my new shirt like a total slob. Then this guy is going to make an excuse for why he needs to call it an early night, and I’ll never hear from him again. And that’s if I’m lucky and he doesn’t bolt before we get to dinner.”
Josh’s big hands closed on my head and massaged my temples. “I wish you wouldn’t get so down on yourself. You’re a great guy. Any man would be lucky to have you.”
Josh tugged me into his arms and squeezed. He didn’t understand. He had no idea how much he took for granted. I tried not to fault him. Guys like him? Sure. With rare exception, I begrudged anyone who sported a sculpted body. Never had that been in the cards for me. I came out of the womb weighing twelve pounds—double the average newborn. Even my baby clothes were too small.
“I’m sweaty,” I said, freeing a hand to wipe my nose and sniffled.
“I don’t care.” Josh laced a hand through my hair and petted me. The tension in my neck and shoulders eased at his touch, despite desperately wanting my shirt on and dreading the wet spot my chest would leave. To say I was “not a hugger” would be an understatement, but with Josh, I’d learned it was best to go with it.
I owed the gods a sacrifice for our roommate match. After being outed in his close-minded small town, Josh needed new friends and as his roommate, I was convenient, but through the years we became inseparable. Now, Josh’s hugs were some of the few I tolerated.
When my emotions threatened to turn liquid, I broke away and grabbed my shirt. “I’m starving,” I declared. “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”
Josh laughed and tussled my hair. Although I was older by two months, sometimes he treated me like a little brother. I never figured out how to process the affection he sent my way, and I was sure he didn’t realize how easily a guy like me could read something more into it, but I liked it enough that I didn’t say anything that might discourage him.
“How about we go home? I’ll make those turkey-stuffed peppers you like.”
A half smile crept onto my face. I did like Josh’s peppers. “Fine, but don’t skimp on the cheese this time, and I’ll know if you use that low-fat bullshit.”
“Deal.” Josh laughed. “But I’m making mine without cheese.”
“Whatever,” I muttered as I replaced my shirt and slipped on my shoes.
“What? I’ve put on weight too.” Josh lifted his shirt, and I nearly swallowed my tongue.
“Yeah. You should really increase the gym trips to seven times a week. Five clearly isn’t cutting it.”
Josh swatted the back of my head.
“Ouch,” I cried, before he smoothed my hair. He led me out of the dressing room, then the store.
A pang of nostalgia hit me. “This was nice,” I said suddenly. “Seems like it’s been forever since we hung out just the two of us.”
Josh’s face tensed like he thought I was blaming him instead of my empty wallet, so I added, “I wouldn’t want to deal with my grumpy ass either. I know you’re busy. You charge me next to nothing to live in your house, and I practically have the whole place to myself.”
Josh flashed a brief contrite smile. “It’s our house. And work should slow down for me.” When I gave him a questioning look, he sighed. “Ken reassigned the Peterson Furniture account to Larry.”
Larry was Josh’s work nemesis. Their boss, Ken, had been pitting them against each other since they were both interns and were told they were competing for the same job. I’d never met the guy, but I was duty-bound to hate him too. It pissed me off that anyone would try to get ahead by making Josh look bad. “You’re kidding? What did Ken say this time? You worked your ass off on that one.”
Josh shrugged. “It is what it is.”
I debated letting his nonanswer go. Josh struggled with anything he perceived as a failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was send him down a shame spiral. “I’m sure you’ll get the next one.”
“And I’m sure you’ll get a better job soon.”
“I hope so. If not, I’m going to have to sell a kidney.”
Josh shook his head. “Quit it with that.”
“I mean it, Josh. If it weren’t for you letting me live—”
“Brady, it’s fine. Stop, okay?”
Tension followed us to the car. His lower lip was tucked between his teeth as he walked. Ah, hell. He was working up the courage to say something else. Josh had two big problems: he had ridiculously high expectations of himself, and he hated disappointing people. Which basically guaranteed he’d put up with far more than most before complaining about anything. It was the main reason I’d been sweating the bills so much. I hated that money, or my lack of it, had become a factor in our friendship. I’d watched my mom struggle long enough that I wasn’t about to run up credit card debt trying to keep up. Every time I told him I couldn’t go out, he looked so hurt, but when I let him pay, I felt like I was taking advantage of him. All the stress was doing a number on my waistline, which in turn made me a cranky bastard.
We slid into the leather interior of my car, recently cleaned for my upcoming date. The air freshener Josh had picked tickled my nose. My airway bitched up a storm around certain chemicals and smells. I started the car and cracked the windows to air it out, then twisted to buckle my seat belt. Josh had his focus set on me, and his lip tucked between his teeth again.
Oh, boy. Here it comes.
“Come workout with me tomorrow.”
I couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “I’m not going to your gym.”
“Why not?” His hand rested over mine on the gearshift, preventing us from going anywhere until I answered. “Look. I know you’re frustrated about the job hunt, but you have to find ways to relax. Exercise is great for stress relief. We can invite Adam if you want to.”
I rolled my eyes. Adam was our friend and my former obsession. Like being the fat guy at a gym wasn’t bad enough, I sure as hell didn’t want to be standing next to the two most attractive men in the room. “Canal Street Gym is a meat market, and I can’t afford it.”
Josh thought on that for a beat with a pensive expression. Great. I’d activated the problem-solving wheels in his brain. Should have just said no.
“Fine. Let’s go running, then. We can start slow.”
I glared at Josh as though he’d proposed climbing Mt. Everest. He laughed, breaking the tension momentarily, and making me laugh too.
“What? It’s something people do, Brady. It’s not as hard as you think.”
“No, thanks,” I deadpanned.
“Brady. Please. I hate seeing you so down on yourself. If you don’t like the way you feel, please do one thing to change it. You know you can talk to me, right?”
I hated the hesitation in Josh’s voice. I knew he’d always support me, but I’d been less than forthcoming about everything I was going through in the last few months. More for my sanity than anything. I couldn’t handle his disappointment along with my own. Interview after interview, I’d walk away thinking I’d nailed it only to find out I didn’t get the job. “I know. Can we please go eat? My blood sugar is dropping, and I’m getting cranky.”
“Fine.” Josh released an exasperated sigh and lifted his hand. I took advantage of the reprieve and put the car in reverse. After living together for six years, Josh and I were both clear on the location of each other’s red lines. However, as quickly as Josh retreated if I stepped near his, my date tonight was proof that he had no issues about kicking rocks over mine.
At six that evening, Josh’s persistent throat clearing risked causing him permanent damage. Yes, I needed to start getting ready. No, I didn’t want to stop playing the game I had used to distract myself thank you very much. I completed the mission I’d been stuck on for three days moments before Josh took matters into his own hands and switched off the television.
“Hey!” I objected.
“Brady. If you don’t get in the shower in the next thirty seconds, I’ll drag you in there myself. You haven’t dated in months.”
Technically, I’d reached the one-year mark three weeks before, but the clarification seemed unnecessary. With a sigh, I tossed my controller on the couch seat next to me. “Fine.”
I trudged to our shared bathroom and ignored the looming figure behind me. Twisting to conceal the stretch marks on my left love handle, I peeled off my shirt and held it over me for cover.
I turned on the water, sat on the edge of the tub, and toed off my shoes and socks. Josh hadn’t moved. “Am I in prison now? Gotta have a guard to watch me shower?” And now I was being an asshole. Great. “Sorry,” I grumbled.
Josh pouted and shook off my apology. “Just making sure you don’t flee out the window.”
I glanced above the tub at the small square window and huffed. “Like my ass would fit through that,” I mumbled. Steam began to fill the room, and I reached for the faucet.
“Brady. Enough.” The harshness of Josh’s tone was reminiscent of my stepfather’s tough-love voice.
I nudged the dial to adjust the water temperature then turned toward him. “Jesus, now what?”
A sheepish expression replaced his resting smile. “Sorry,” Josh muttered. “I thought you were going to turn it off.”
“Was that an option?”
“Please trust me. You need to do this. It’s one dinner.” Josh didn’t have to keep repeating the mantra. He was right. I was in a rut, and all a rut ever got me was a bigger clothing size. “I thought you liked him?”
“Yeah. He’s all right, I guess.” So far, chats with Matt had shown promise. He wasn’t anywhere close to as perfect as Josh, but then that was the point. Matt was obtainable.
I eyed Josh, allowing a moment to appreciate his physical attributes. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what made Josh so damn attractive. He was above-average height, his body rivaled Hollywood’s leading men, and he was blessed with skin that tanned easily, but lots of men had those things. His face though—that was the real draw. It was so symmetrical that even a small freckle on the right side of his angular jaw had a perfect match on the left.
Josh heaved an impatient sigh. “Is this still about Adam?”
“No.” Adam had been my excuse to not try to meet someone far longer than he’d been my reason for it. He’d made it abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in me, but my go-to move in college had been to pine wordlessly and fall on my mattress with angsty sighs, so I’d stuck with what I knew. It had sucked, but the idea of putting myself out there for real sucked ten times harder.
Josh’s skepticism was delivered with a pointed stare and a single arched eyebrow. “Great, then there is nothing keeping you from having a good time tonight.”
I sighed acquiescence. I would go on this date. Josh had the best of intentions. He always had the best intentions. He was near perfect in that way. I sort of owed it to him after the months of attitude I’d given him. Josh went through a lot of trouble to set up a dating profile for me and even managed to take some halfway decent photos. Not that I thought I was ugly. I had big blue eyes and a full head of mahogany-brown hair that was easy to style, straight teeth, and clear skin. Like the rest of my body, my face was too round, and only one of my chins was strong, but with a proper angle and lighting, I pulled off a decent headshot. Nothing was going to make me sexy—no Instagram filter was that good, but neck up wasn’t awful.
“Brady.” Josh’s plea drew me out of my contemplations.
I nodded and pulled the curtain back. “All right. Fine. You win. I’ll date Matt. I’ll fuck him. We’ll fall in love and get married and tell our future children how their Uncle Josh forced me to go on our first date. Happy now?”
Josh nodded with an expression that registered a far cry from happy, but before I could apologize for my outburst, he left and shut the door behind him. Not long after while brushing my teeth, I heard the garage door open and close, and came out of the bathroom to find an empty house and a note from Josh.
Good luck tonight. Have fun.
At seven on the nose, I entered Campriani’s Italian Restaurant still puzzled by Josh’s disappearing act. It’s not like I expected him to hand-hold me through getting ready, but he hadn’t mentioned having plans earlier. When I texted to see where he’d gone, he didn’t answer. Not even when I threatened to stay home. I considered that it might be Josh’s way of helping me not be nervous. Like maybe if he racked me with enough guilt for snapping at him, there’d be no room left for anxiety.
He wasn’t really pissed because, well, Josh never got mad at me. Frustrated? Sure. Exasperated? Often. Disappointed? More than I liked. But never angry. Plus, he left the note on one of my more flattering shirts, freshly ironed, on my bed with my jeans and his favorite Cole Haan loafers. Josh had an extensive shoe collection that had tripled since we’d left college. If I ever gained so much that we wore different shoe sizes . . . I shivered, unable to contemplate such a cruel world. I doubted I had worn one of the five pairs I owned in over a year. He’d also left his favorite cologne on my dresser. I hadn’t worn it. On the odd chance things between Matt and me turned toward sexy town, it would be hella-weird to smell Josh.
I made my way through the weekend-night crowd to the hostess stand. My phone vibrated with an incoming text. Across the room, Matt sat at the row of tables for two against the wall, alone, phone in hand. He glanced up and waved, and I bypassed the hostess and weaved my way toward him.
“Hey, Brady.” Matt stood and greeted me with a loose side hug. The forced intimacy sent my stomach acid racing up my throat. He motioned to my seat, which backed up to an occupied chair at the next table. I sized up the easement and froze. Even if I pulled the chair all the way back, I’d be eating with my gut heaved on the table or the table digging into my stomach. Neither sounded appetizing.
Matt smiled acknowledgment. “Will you be more comfortable over here?”
“Do you mind?”
“Of course not. I took this seat so I would see you walk in.” Matt placed his hands on my shoulders and squeezed affectionately. He slid past me and took the seat I’d rejected. Inwardly, I sighed relief, and a fleeting moment of optimism tickled my brain. Maybe my date wasn’t going to be a flaming pile of dog shit. I smiled, knowing Josh would be proud of me for that.
Once we were settled and had ordered our drinks, Matt kicked off the first-date conversation by exploring the menu options with me. He’d already decided on a dish from the specials list, but that menu had no prices. He highly recommended their Fettuccine Campriani.
I found the description and paused at the cream-based sauce. “Um. I’m trying to avoid white sauce. Anything else you’d suggest?”
Matt frowned as though I’d rejected him and not his suggestion.
“Or did you want to share?” I offered.
“No. I have some food restrictions to deal with and don’t want to limit you. Please get whatever you want. If you’re aiming for something on the lighter side, their chopped salad is pretty good, or you can get any of their penne options with whole wheat pasta. The arrabiata sauce is amazing, but I’ll warn you it is very spicy.”
I perused the menu on my own for a minute. By the time I eliminated the red sauce items for stain prevention and the white sauce options for fat-shaming prevention, I was down to the chopped salad and Chicken Caesar, which in a happy coincidence were the least-expensive items on the menu. The server arrived, and Matt ordered the shrimp special. The server seemed a little too surprised at my choice of the chopped salad with a light dressing. Yes, the fat man ordered a salad. Alert the media.
Matt and I had already discovered a shared interest in the Mission to Mars video game series, so we burned most of the conversation time before our meals arrived discussing the latest release. “Have you found the glitch on the Isidis basin mission?” I’d spent three weeks figuring out how best to exploit it.
“Not yet. I bought it last week but haven’t had much time to play.”
“It’s kind of complicated, but when you go into the room where you get the mission briefing, there’s a door on the right. If you go through it before the briefing is over, you can score an unlimited oxygen tank and everything you need to survive the Tharsis volcano eruption. If you wait until it’s over, you get a regular six-hour tank, and you have to upgrade your heat shield at least three times to survive.”
Matt flashed an amused smile and nodded. “Cool. Maybe when I get there, you can come over and talk me through it.”
“Sure,” I agreed, before his offer fully translated into a potential second date. As I considered the ramifications of that, our meals arrived.
I managed to contribute a few witty stories and some thoughtful questions, but Matt carried most of the conversatio