1. “Busy, huh?” asked a dejected Danny Cater. “Jeez, most of the girls around here are super busy. Say, did I mention that I lost thirty pounds on the Thinspiration program? I’ve been saving my points for the past three weeks, so perhaps we could share a 50-ounce cake.”
Emily Twiggs twirled her empty straw wrapper around the finger where an engagement ring should have been. She wasn’t entirely sure why she had decided to go out with this wan, uninteresting tool, but she meant to end their date as soon as possible. “That sounds nice, but I’ve got to get up around, uh, 3 a.m. for my knitting circle.”
“That seems real early for a group meeting,” Cater said.
Twiggs took another sip of her salted hot chocolate. Cater had bought it for her, but even his gift of this seasonal beverage wasn’t enough to salvage the evening. “That’s how it is with knitting circles,” she said, forcing a smile. “We have to meet early in the morning, because most of us are busy with other things.”
Cater couldn’t believe his bad luck. Why did he have to live in an area where the women were so busy? “Well, it’s only five. The night is young, as they say.”
“Yes, that’s something they say,” Emily agreed. “Still, I need to get going. You know, what with being extra busy and all.”
“May I give you a goodbye kiss?” Cater asked, bending forward across the table in case she consented to this overture.
A look of disgust flashed across Emily’s face. “Oh no, god no,” she said. Then, after composing herself, she added, “Look, I’ll see you around, okay?”
Cater rubbed his tiny hands together. “It’s been a pleasure,” he said. “I think the Zoloft is making me a much more agreeable dinner companion.”
Emily got up and pulled her purse over her shoulder. “That’s good to hear, I guess. I hope you have the best of luck with everything and whatnot.”
After she had departed, Cater checked his watch. It was almost 5:30 p.m. Another girl he had met on the Internet would arrive in a few minutes. He was right on schedule.
2. Eddy Jacks, Sr. took a deep breath and prepared for the match of a lifetime. He was sixty-five, obese, and two weeks removed from his fourth heart attack. Still, nothing could stop him from giving the people what they wanted. What they wanted on this particular evening was for him to give his wimpy son the ass-kicking of a lifetime.
“Herc” Broadsides, who had agreed to serve as the guest referee for this match, finished lacing his boots and sidled up to Jacks. “You sure you’re ready for this one, champ? You look like hell.”
Jacks scoffed at the sports hero’s innocent question. “‘Herc,’ I’ll have you know I gained all of this weight so that I could develop the balance of a sumo wrestler. There’s nothing but hard muscle under here.”
“But you’ve been doing this for forty years, champ. You sure you need to go out there one more time? Is it worth it?”
Jacks slipped the straps of his singlet over his shoulders, then patted his ample stomach. “Life’s all about losing, ‘Herc,’ and I’ve lost it all. I want to go out a winner.”
“Herc,” who had never been anything but a winner, nodded in acknowledgement of Jacks’ corn-pone wisdom. “They broke the mold when they made you, champ,” he said.
After his stirring locker room peroration, it stands to reason that Jacks died in the ring or something dramatic like that. Far from it: He tore his meniscus stepping onto the ring apron. His son, who hated the old man’s guts with a hate that was way more than hate, began weeping when he saw Jacks, Sr. go down. A forfeit meant that neither party would get paid, and Eddy Jacks, Jr. had incurred debts that no honest man could repay.
“Just keep lifting those weights, son,” “Herc” whispered to the younger grappler as Jacks, Sr. was being helped out of the ring.
3. Camden Camden opened up her laptop and started browsing the Internet. Since she didn’t work or go to school, she had a lot of time for this particular hobby. One of her favorite things was to do was checking her Friendface page, which she maintained with the same care and devotion that a mother bird gives the eggs in her nest.
However, Friendface brought its own set of problems. As much as Camden Camden tried to ignore other people and focus on herself, the social networking site kept giving her updates about their goings-on. These other people, who were neither as pretty nor as interesting as her, seemed to think that various events in their lives were worthy of documentation.
Camden Camden logged onto Friendface and perused her newsfeed. At the bottom of the feed, she saw a picture of a bikini-clad Emily Twiggs clutching an NRG-Beer (“a caffeinated eye-opener that will turn your hangovers into hang 10s”) and giving the camera the middle finger. Oh god, Camden Camden thought, what am I to make of this development? Emily Twiggs was her best friend, worst enemy, and social bellwether—and why on earth did she take this photo? She looked terrible in that bikini, with extra pounds in all the wrong places. Also, who was the cameraman? Her new beau? Emily had mentioned a coffee date with some local loser. Did that guy take it? Were they getting all hot and heavy? Or was Emily, who had just broken up with longtime fiancé Eddy Jacks, Jr., trying to attract another mate?
Who was Emily Twiggs kidding? What a bitch she was, this bitchy little bitch! Emily’s clock was ticking, and Camden Camden—whose clock was also ticking, unbeknownst to her—couldn’t stifle her disgust at how desperate her friend was. Sloppy, goofy, fake-baker Emily was nothing at all like her, a thoroughly modern young woman whose bony knees and elbows protruded like jacket hooks and whose skin was tanner than the finest Corinthian leather.
Marshaling the skill and poise that comes so naturally to a winner like her, Camden Camden typed the nastiest and most incisive comment imaginable: “u look fuckin hot sister. gr8 pic keep it up em! <3 <3 <3”
Content that she had made her point, Camden Camden turned on her webcam and began posing for pictures. After she found one that disguised her somewhat mannish jawline and incipient crow’s-feet, she uploaded it to Friendface and set it as her default photo.
“so beautiful & so precious a angel,” reads the caption under the photo.