Dead Weight (Lizzy Gardner #2)


by T.R. Ragan

Chapter 1

Free at Last

California, 1989

Headed north on Interstate 5, Carol Fullerton, sixteen going on thirty, waffled between feeling a sense of boundless liberation and apprehension. The windows of the 1969 Ford Torino were rolled down.

The wind whipped through her hair: freedom.

The slight hiss of the engine: anxiety.

Although her license, complete with picture of a young girl with blonde stringy hair and goofy expression, had arrived in the mail two days ago, she’d been planning for this day for what seemed like forever.

Click. Pssst. Sssss.

There it was again.

The tank was more than half full. She wasn’t running out of gas. Her best friend, Ellen, had sold her the car for two hundred dollars. Ellen was a year older. In a very short time the two of them had made a lot of memories driving around Sacramento in the car they often referred to as their chariot. The car had allowed them a certain amount of freedom and always got them where they wanted to go.

But at the moment, the engine didn’t sound too good.

She needed to find a gas station and have a mechanic look under the hood, but all she could see in front of her was a never-ending stretch of highway.

She pushed harder on the gas pedal, hoping to find help before it was too late. The engine whirred and then slipped as if something wasn’t connecting. She was sure she was in trouble when she saw a puff of white smoke seep out from under the hood.

Pulling to the side of the highway, she shut off the ignition, exited the vehicle, and opened the hood.

The engine hissed and sputtered.

A couple of cars whizzed past. She found an old sweatshirt from the backseat and used it to wipe the dipstick so she could check the oil. It was full. Reaching through the passenger window, she grabbed a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum and a map. She decided to give the engine a chance to rest before she tried turning on the ignition again.

She plopped down on the gravel near the front right tire and popped the stick of gum into her mouth. She looked around; nothing but wide open fields and pine trees in the distance.

According to the map there was a national park close by. If worse came to worst, she would head that way and look for a park ranger, or at the very least, a public telephone.

Chapter 2

Today’s the Day

Sierra Mountains, 2010

“Step on the scale.”

“No.”

“You want to leave here, don’t you?”

That got her attention. The woman on the bed turned her head toward him. She was not a happy camper.

“Today might be your lucky day. Your arms are half the size they were when you first came to me. Look at this,” he said, holding up a summer dress with spaghetti straps. “I even bought you a dress for the occasion.”

“You’re never going to let me go.” Her head fell back against the already flattened pillow.

He looked at the dining room table and noticed she’d eaten the salad and green beans and left the chocolate chip cookies. It was amazing what a person could do with the right motivation. He crossed the room in a few strides and went to stand on the other side of the bed so he could get a better look at her.

She wore an oversized pajama shirt that hung past her knees. Her cheekbones were more pronounced. Three chins had become one.

“Yes,” he said. “You’re definitely going home. You look like a whole new person.”

She ignored him.

“Come on. Get up. I want to see how you look in this dress.”

He helped her slide her legs to the edge of the bed. Her feet slid slowly to the floor, the long chain clinking as she moved.

She had taken three weeks longer than most to lose a measly ten pounds, but during the sixth week something must have finally triggered her to start doing the hard work because the weight had melted off from that point on.

He picked up her logbook from the bedside table and looked it over. “Good. Good. Looks like you’ve been following the routine perfectly. Get dressed,” he said as he headed for the kitchen.

He removed the dishes from the small wood table, but left the plate of cookies. She was a messy one, he thought. Most of the women who had stayed here did the dishes and kept everything nice and tidy, but Diane Kramer was a bona fide slob. She used to be a pig and a slob. One out of two wasn’t bad. When he returned to the bed, which also served as a couch when she wasn’t in it, he was delighted to see that the dress fit her perfectly.

Today was definitely the day.

“You look great,” he told her. He raised his hand to her face so that he could brush tangled hair from her eyes.

She flinched as if his touch was revolting in some way. The idea boggled his mind. He’d been good to her. For months he’d provided her with nutritious meals, made certain she was clothed and bathed, supplied her with books to read and gave her a journal so she could keep track of her progress. Not once had he raised a hand to her, let alone his voice.

He nudged her arm to get her on the scale. She was five feet, five inches tall. When the tip of the needle settled on the nine, he was ecstatic. “Congratulations, Diane, you did it! You weigh 119 pounds.” Once he removed the chains from around her ankles, she would be closer to 109 pounds. Fabulous.

She stood before the mirror looking glum, her shoulders slumped forward, her spine curved. There was only so much he could do. Attitude was everything.

Nothing she could say or do, though, would ruin the joy he felt upon seeing such amazing results. There wasn’t a human being in the world who he couldn’t help. He was sure of it.

He moved her away from the scale, placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her toward the one wall in the room that she could not reach during her stay. The wall was covered with a dark silky sheet.

It was time for the big reveal.

But first, he grabbed the comb from the bedside table and brushed the tangles from her long dirty-blonde hair.

She remained silent, her eyes dull and lifeless.

Once that chore was done, he went to stand in front of the sheet, inhaling deeply as he turned and stared at her. Thirty seconds passed before he realized he was holding his breath. He smiled and then snapped his fingers when he realized he’d almost forgotten the most important part.

Within minutes he returned to the same spot in front of the sheet, glad to see she hadn’t moved. He held the Polaroid camera high enough so he could see her from head to toe through the viewfinder.

“Stand up straight,” he said.

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