When You Were Young (Chapter 2, page 1 of 6)

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Chapter 2

Prudence touched her hair as she left the salon, a breeze nipping at the back of her neck. In eleven years she'd never worn her hair so short, shorter even than most of the boys back in Eternity. Irene-the little old hairdresser recommended by Mrs. Schulman-said it was a good look. "It complements your face," she said. "You have such pretty cheeks."

Those cheeks turned red at the mention. In the last three years they, like the rest of her, had gotten considerably smaller. From the measurements she kept in her shop, which she kept hidden from everyone-including Wendell-she had in fact cut her weight in half from three hundred six pounds to one hundred fifty-three at the last measurement. The amount of weight loss in each tally kept shrinking to the point now where it was nearing a plateau. She would always be "big-boned" as Mrs. Schulman said or "husky" as Suzie said.

So busy was she touching her hair that she walked into someone on the sidewalk. "Sorry," she said. "I wasn't paying attention." Only when she looked down did she realize she'd knocked Wendell to the ground.

"That's all right," he said, brushing himself off as he stood up. "I almost didn't recognize you."

"You like it? You don't think it's too short?"

"No, it looks great. I love it. I love you." He kissed her one of her pretty cheeks. She blushed again, feeling everyone on the sidewalk staring at them. Sometimes she wanted to tell Wendell to stop being so affectionate in public, especially in Eternity, but she didn't want to hurt his feelings. He was only trying to be nice.

Still, as he took her hand and they started down the sidewalk, she couldn't shake the feeling people were watching them, laughing at them. She expected someone to shout a warning about her stepping on Wendell or warning him she might eat him the way kids in Eternity teased them. "They're just jealous," Wendell always told her. She wanted to believe him, but every time they went out she felt the stares and heard the snickers.

To keep her mind off this, she asked, "Did you get me a birthday present yet?"

"It's your birthday? I didn't know."

"I told you weeks ago. Don't you remember?"

He rubbed the sparse red fuzz on his jaw for a moment. "I seem to recall something about a birthday-" he broke into laughter. "Of course I know it's your birthday. I got your present a long time ago."

She slapped him on the shoulder. "Don't do that."

"I'm sorry," he said, rubbing his shoulder. "I think you're going to leave a bruise."

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