She's trying to learn to love herself.
He already thinks she's perfect.
When a small-town waitress's doctor suggests weight loss surgery, she's terrified of facing both the risks and recovery. Then again, fairytales don't happen for fat girls--or at least they never have for her.
In this heartfelt inspirational romance from a New York Times bestselling author, Jeffrey and Kristina Rose must embark on journeys deep within their own hearts to discover what--and who--they really want in life. Could revealing his newly discovered feelings post-op make her doubt his sincerity and ruin the special friendship they've both come to depend upon?
“Order’s up!” Jeffrey bellowed from the kitchen as he slid a pair of plates into the window that looked out upon Mabel’s Old-Fashioned Diner.
“That was fast,” Kristina Rose said with a smile as she loaded up her round serving tray with condiments and extra napkins, then grabbed the m
eals he had prepared. Her teeth gleamed white against her dark complexion. The added contrast made Kristina’s smiles seem all the more special. Jeffrey had never been sure why, but he’d always appreciated the little jolt her happiness sent rushing through him.
“Gotta be fast,” he responded without missing a beat. “Mabel’s got a reputation to uphold, after all. And, besides, I’m starved. Gonna whip something up and take a late lunch. Want to join me? I can just as easily cook for two as I can one.”
The corners of her mouth fell, and Kristina let out a slow sigh. “I wish,” she muttered. “I started my liquid diet this morning. I’m only allowed protein drinks and chicken broth. And water, of course.”
“Sorry, sorry, I forgot!” He shooed her toward the waiting customers. Now that she’d mentioned it, he had noticed her step had become a bit slower, her tray had drooped lower than usual.
She’d be going in for surgery later that week and absent from the diner for at least a month while she recovered. Their boss, Mabel, had insisted on it. Part of him wondered why she had even come in to work at all if she’d already started her presurgery fast, but the answer seemed obvious enough. She’d already be missing out on a month of income as she recovered, and for a young woman living on her own, well, she needed every dollar she could scrimp and save.
And while they liked many of the same things, lived in the same city, and even came from two of the only nonwhite families in town, they were also different in a lot of ways, too. For starters, Kristina Rose had grown up in their tiny town of Sweet Grove, Texas, whereas Jeffrey hadn’t shown up until high school, when his parents took over the old pharmacy downtown. He was close with his parents, always had been, but Kristina had never known her father and always seemed to prickle whenever Jeffrey asked after her mother.
But that was none of his business, of course.
He’d always assumed Kristina stayed in Sweet Grove because her friends were the nearest thing to family—and that she stayed on as a waitress for Mabel because there weren’t an awful lot of other career prospects around town. All that was fine. He was happy to have her company day in and day out.
Jeffrey, on the other hand, stayed in town to delay the inevitable. His father wasn’t thrilled he’d taken time off after completing his bachelor’s degree to come home and work as a short-order cook. No, Jeffrey’s life had all been planned out for him, and now he’d fallen nearly a full year behind that preordained schedule. He was to finish college and move straight on to his doctorate in pharmacy. After that, he’d work under his father for a few years until the old man retired and left Jeffrey as the sole pharmacist at their tiny pharmacy in downtown Sweet Grove. After all, a town as tiny as theirs only needed the one.
Jeffrey tried not to gag just thinking about the heinous plans his father had made for his life without bothering to include him in the process. Instead, he reached into the cooler and grabbed three eggs, cracked them on the side of the griddle, and watch them ooze and sizzle on the hot surface.
Funny how heat had a way of changing things. Sometimes, like with the eggs, the hot made them better. Other times you ended up with a melty mess. And for his part, Jeffrey avoided the hot in life. He preferred to live his days at room temperature.
Not that he’d ever eat his eggs that way, mind you.
He rummaged about in the walk-in until he found some shrimp nearing its expiration date. Shrimp? Sure, why not? He grabbed some sausage, too, and resolved to make a jambalaya scramble for a quick, pleasant lunch.
He loved how the act of cooking could combine such different ingredients and blend them together in one harmonious and delicious whole. What could pills do? Corrode your liver? Facilitate a suicide? Drive you to bankruptcy? Nope. No, thank you.
He didn’t begrudge his father his passions—he just didn’t share them himself. Jeffrey would take food as medicine over actual drugs Monday, Tuesday . . . heck, any day of the week.
Kristina came back to the window and clinked some ice into a fresh glass, then added a stream of water from the soda dispenser. “Tasty,” she said and winked at him. “Bet you’re so jealous of the five-star lunch I have going on right here.”
“Jealous of you?” he said, sprinkling some Frank’s Red Hot onto his steaming egg dish. “Always.” And as it turned out, he kind of was. Only he wasn’t entirely sure why just yet.
He pushed through the kitchen doors and came to sit next to her at the counter. They ate and drank in silence for a few moments. Kristina Rose kept her eyes cast down toward the counter and occasionally chewed on the inside of her cheek, sucking it in then letting it bounce back.
“Are you scared?” he asked between bites.
“Terrified,” she answered without a moment’s hesitation.
“It’ll be okay.”
“I know, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.”
Funny, that was exactly how he felt when forced to look toward his own future. No, it would be better to just close his eyes, eat his eggs, and focus on all the things he liked right now in his present.
* * *
Kristina Rose’s alarm trilled into the darkness of her one-bedroom apartment. Rather than rushing to press the off switch, she let it continue its screechy song. At least now she had a distraction.
She’d been awake for hours, just lying in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering if she was about to die and, if so, what that might feel like. What a way to spend her final hours on earth—or at least in this particular plus-size body.
She began crying.
And now she was shaking.
She couldn’t breathe without taking huge, gasping breaths that never quite filled her lungs.
Ahh, there it was, the full-fledged panic attack.
She pressed a hand to her chest and tried to focus on the steady rhythm of her own heartbeat. Thump, thump, thump. Her blood rushed through her body. Thump, thump . . . thump.
Once she trusted herself to breathe again, she took one slow, shaky breath. Then another.
Her alarm continued to demand attention, so finally she pressed the silencer and headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
Her best friend, Elise, would arrive in just a few minutes, and together they would drive to the hospital. At least her surgery was scheduled for first thing in the morning. She wouldn’t have been able to handle the anxiety encroaching in on her otherwise. And Elise would be there the whole time. Even though her youth pastor BFF had zero medical training, the fact that she would be close at hand made Kristina feel loads better. It was almost as if Elise’s profession gave her a direct line to God, like her prayers were answered more quickly and urgently than that of a lay Christian such as Kristina Rose.
Ridiculous, but comforting nonetheless.
Kristina picked up her mascara wand and then set it back down. The nurse had said no makeup or hair product that morning. She’d have to go au naturel. The surgical staff would be handling her guts, after all, so why did the thought of them seeing her unpolished face almost scare her more?
She’d be going into battle without any protective armor—that was why. “Such a pretty face,” everyone always said. But their praise came after she’d carefully applied the needed layers. This morning she’d need to confront her future with an ugly face and ugly, flabby body. Talk about vulnerable!
“You are a strong, confident woman,” she told herself without looking in the mirror as she usually did. “People love you for you. Besides, you have black-girl magic.”
She laughed as she thought about the memes that had been flying all over Facebook about said magic. Did the Olympic gymnast Simone Biles care how she looked? Of course not, even though she was as cute as a button anyway. Simone focused on being the best she could be, on developing her talent, on finding her worth outside of appearances.
Kristina Rose could do that. She could, and she would.
Armed with prayers, a renewed sense of determination, and—of course—black-girl magic, she headed out the door and into the idling truck that had just pulled up to the curb.
Elise yawned her greeting. “Morning. How did you know I was here?”
“Because you are always five minutes early, five minutes on the nose.”
“Am I really that predictable?”
“You’re really that much my best friend. I know you, Elise, and all your adorable quirks.”
Elise scrunched her nose and winked. “Well, guess what? I know you, too. And I know how hard this is for you, but I also know how very proud I am of you.”
“You know all that, huh?”
“Yup, and I know things are going to work out just fine. Trust in the Lord. He’ll see you through.”
“You know I always do.”
Elise beat out a song on her steering wheel and blew at the blonde bangs that had fallen into her eyes. “So are we done knowing stuff for now? We kind of have somewhere we need to be.”
“Yeah, I guess we do.” Kristina Rose frowned, a gesture which did not escape her best friend.
“None of that!” she insisted and grabbed Kristina’s hand. “Quick prayer, and then we’re off. Got it?”
She nodded and listened as Elise sent up her expert, professional prayers to the Almighty. Then she silently added one of her own, just in case she didn’t wake up when all was said and done.
For better or for worse, everything was about to change. And no matter what Elise said, they couldn’t really know which it would be.