A True Friend
Virginia Lee Bliss
The entrance to Chez Robert struck fear in Amanda’s soul. Hanging ferns, outdoor tables, a glimpse of subdued lighting inside bespoke elegance, chic—and sinfully rich food.
Lise, her roommate from college, had told Amanda to meet her here. After graduation, Lise had gone back to France. Married now, she returned to the States with her husband and settled in a Boston suburb.
Lise arrived in an aura of effervescence. Svelte as ever in a little black number, a string of pearls her only jewelry, her lustrous black hair cut in gamine style. Amanda clutched at her baggy print dress, conscious of her limp brown locks.
“Mon chérie amie
!" The Frenchwoman hugged her. “It has been eight years! You are well?”
“Just fine, thank you.”
If you don’t count the twenty extra pounds
The maître d´hôtel showed them to a table. “Your menus, mesdemoiselles
. Henri, your garçon, will take your orders shortly.”
Lise exclaimed at the menu selections, “Poulet à la bretonne…baba au rhum…Pouilly Fuissé…” She buttered two slices of baguette and offered one to Amanda.
She shook her head. Maybe I could order a salad. I brought some fat-free dressing. And low-calorie sweetener for coffee…I wonder if a place like this serves diet soda...
.” Henri bowed. “Your orders, s´il vous plaît
Six years of French in school, and I still can’t understand the menu
. “I’ll have a green salad and a diet coke.”
“My apologies, mademoiselle
. We do not serve diet cola. What type of salad dressing do you wish?”
“No dressing, thanks.”
Lise leaned forward. “Garçon, pay no attention to mon amie
. We will have gigot d’agneau, mousse au chocolat et Bordeaux Château Trocard pour deux, s´il vous plaît
Something “chocolate”. Amanda’s eyes widened in terror. “Lise, what did you order?”
“Leg of lamb, chocolate mousse, and Bordeaux Château Trocard—perfect with lamb.”
Lamb. Greasy, fatty, fattening lamb
Henri looked to Lise. “An entrée perhaps, mademoiselle
. Salade au chèvre chaud. For two.”
“Make mine without dressing.”
“I’m afraid, mademoiselle, that will be quite impossible.”
Amanda was sure she detected a sneer in Henri’s voice.
Lise waved the waiter away with an expression that said, “Ignore my foolish friend.”
She turned to Amanda. “Mon amie
, the dressing is part of the salad. You cannot separate the two. Besides, why would you want to?”
After Henri returned with the salads, Lise consumed hers with gusto, praising its charms between mouthfuls. “The chèvre is parfait
; the endive and radishes, garden fresh.”
“Is chèvre a low-fat cheese?” Amanda picked at her salad.
“Certainly not! One might as well eat rubber.”
“And the oil—”
“But of course! It is not only a matter of taste. How will you absorb nutrients from the vegetables without oil? Why do you think salads are dressed with vinaigrette?”
“I’m too well nourished, already.”
“Non, mon ami
. You are starved. Now we will have no more arguments. I have not seen you for a long time. I wish to enjoy our meal together. You must eat at least a little of everything.”
“All right, Lise.” With a mixture of fear and resignation, Amanda lifted a forkful of salad to her mouth.
* * *
Over dessert and demitasse, Lise asked, “Is there someone special in your life, Amanda?”
“Not at the moment.”
More like not for the past three years
* * *
After departing Chez Robert, promising to keep in touch, Amanda returned to her apartment. She could imagine what Lise would make of it.
Mon amie, your home is so barren when it could be enchanting. It does not require great expense…besides, you have employment…you could begin with a few plants, perhaps…
Not that she’d ever invite Lise to visit her. She surveyed the contents of her fridge—a six-pack of diet soda, half a head of wilted iceberg lettuce. Ice cubes and a package of spinach in the freezer. Instant coffee in the cupboard, along with a packet of sugar-free raspberry gelatin.
After work Monday, she’d have to go to the supermarket.
* * *
When Lise arrived home, her husband André was already there.
“Your lunch at Chez Robert? It was enjoyable?”
. The food is exquisite. And your lunch with the important client?”
. But you know—I ate so much, I am not very hungry.”
So they dined on fresh salmon and kale with lemon butter and skipped the white wine.
André took a sip of Perrier. “And how is your friend—Amanda?”
“She does not enjoy her food as she should.”
“For example, she is afraid of salad dressing. I told her one cannot obtain nutrients from a salad with no oil, but she will not believe me. ‘Chèvre —full of fat…eggs—too much cholesterol…does this restaurant serve diet soda?’ Can you imagine? She refuses bread—too high in carbohydrates. She even brought her own saccharine for coffee. Where does the madness end?”
André laughed. “These Americans—they are wonderful, but when it comes to food, they are insane. Always they have a new culinary—how do they say?—‘villain of the month.’”
“And to see mon amie
caught up in such imbecility.”
“Now that we live near her, you can visit her often, ma chérie
. Perhaps you can help.”
. I think I will try.”
* * *
After work on Monday, Amanda set out for the supermarket.
Start with the meats and seafood section. Flounder—low in fat. Skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
At the produce section, she chose broccoli and string beans. At least fresh tasted better than frozen and didn’t have any more calories, as far as she knew.
She looked longingly at the summer fruits piled high in the display bins—cherries, blueberries, strawberries…the image of carefree summer days of her childhood floated before her…the aroma of ripe peaches…biting into one…juices dripping down her chin…
She put the memory from her. Just the other night, on XYN, some doctor said you might as well gorge on cake as eat a lot of fruit.
But there’s grapefruit. Wasn’t eating grapefruit supposed to make you lose weight? They taste lousy in the summer but never mind.
She took a carton of skim milk from the dairy case, trying not to think about what Lise had said the other day.
In France, we use only unpasteurized milk from local farms…it is perfectly safe…why do Americans drink skim milk, and why three glasses a day
Amanda surveyed the whipped toppings. Skinny Whip. They’ve got a new fat-free version—fifteen calories per serving…No—wait!—Fast-Wip has only five calories…
She always allowed herself one treat. Perusing the frozen foods section, she spotted Lite-Chocolate Sundaes—only 140 calories per serving. Okay, two treats. She bought a box of Slim Kim macaroni and cheese.
The clerk smirked as Amanda unloaded her cart at the checkout. “On a diet, I see.”
Amanda swiped her debit card and hurried out of the store.
The nerve of that woman
She drove home, fuming. She dragged in the groceries and slammed them down on the counter. The thought of chicken breasts so similar in consistency to cardboard, or the frozen fish that, when cooked, bore a resemblance to rubber, was so depressing she burst into tears.
She made a cup of decaf. The coffee at Chez Robert had been so heavenly. Not like this brown water. She gagged at the aftertaste left by the artificial sweetener.
Nothing in the apartment she wanted to eat, except the Lite-Chocolate Sundae. She unwrapped one of the servings and took a bite…Funny, they look so good in the picture on the box. She read the ingredients…polysorbate…high fructose corn syrup…artificial flavors…propylene glycol…
She took out another serving…and another.
Ten o’clock and I’ve eaten all four servings. Four times 140 equal 560 calories
The only thing left was the macaroni and cheese. One serving. 280 calories. She put the tray in the microwave.
The bright orange cheese—or whatever it was—might have been nuclear waste.
Does it glow in the dark
* * *
For the next four days, Amanda stuck to her diet with religious zeal. Half a grapefruit for breakfast, skip lunch, baked fish or chicken breasts for dinner with a vegetable. No butter or salt. Diet gelatin for dessert. In between meals, she assuaged her hunger pangs with black coffee and diet soda.
On Saturday, she weighed herself.
How could I have not lost anything? Not a single pound
It’s no use
By nightfall, she felt the familiar Saturday depression creep over her and take hold.
She got in the car. About three quarters of an hour later she returned with a cheeseburger—extra large, a double portion of fries, and half-dozen chocolate doughnuts.
* * *
Sunday afternoon, she lay in bed, still recovering from last night. Her smartphone rang.
Who’d be calling on a Sunday? Why don’t they text or leave a voice message…
About an hour later the phone rang again, the screen displaying Lise’s number. She took the call.
“Amanda, you are well? I have tried to reach you three times today.”
“Oh, uh…I was out.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“I am eager to visit local clothing shops. Can you recommend one?”
Clothes? The last time I bought clothes, it was at EconoStore. At the rate I’m going, pretty soon I’ll have to shop at Queen Size
“I’ve been so busy lately…”
“You are not too busy to shop for clothes. I have heard of a store called Giselle’s. What do you know about it?”
Giselle’s? Amanda hadn’t thought of going there.
Why spend that kind of money until I lose some weight
Lise demanded, “Well?”
“It’s—it’s very fashionable.”
“Then we will go there together. I shall call for you at your apartment Saturday at nine.”
I can’t—I can’t—can’t go
“All right, Lise. Thank you for inviting me.”
* * *
In the days that followed, Amanda dared not stray from her self-imposed dietary regime—fish, chicken, vegetables, etc. She went through her closet for something that didn’t make her look like the side of a barn and finally chose a pair of loose-fitting black slacks and long-sleeved brown blouse.
On Saturday morning, she waited at the curb, hoping that Lise wouldn’t insist upon seeing her apartment. Fortunately, her friend was eager to commence shopping.
Looking very summery in a white silk pleated skirt and lemon striped top, Lise eased her Mazda into a parking space two blocks from Giselle’s.
Amanda blinked. “There’s a parking space right next—”
“But mon ami
, why miss the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine on such a beautiful morning?”
They walked in to the shop, jingling the bell over the door. Lise favored the proprietress with a gracious smile. “We wish to see some cocktail dresses.”
What if she asks me what size I wear
Lise browsed the selection, contemplating each garment. She held up a maxi dress. “Try this on.”
Amanda winced. “I look horrible in blue.”
“Perhaps you have been trying the wrong shade.”
“What if it doesn’t fit?”
“Try it on!”
Amanda went in the dressing room. To her amazement, it fit. Too frightened to look in the mirror, she exited the cubicle.
Lise regarded her with the critical eye of a horse trader. “Très chic
! Look in the mirror.”
How could Lise have known the dress would make me look slimmer—as well as cool and summery
After the clerk rang up the dress, Lise steered Amanda to jewelry. Before she knew it, Amanda was walking out of the store with the dress, a silver rope necklace and bracelets, silver earrings, and three-inch heeled white sandals.
“Next Saturday, we will visit the beauty salon,” said Lise. “André will be at a business conference, and I do not wish to spend the day alone. After the salon, we shall have lunch at my apartment.”
* * *
On Saturday, Lise drove Amanda to Salon Chantelle.
“But it’s so expensive,” Amanda protested.
“The perfect cut is never too expensive. Chantelle is an artiste with her shears.”
In fear and trepidation, Amanda took a seat. “Don’t take off too much!”
After Chantelle finished, she wouldn’t let Amanda look at herself in the mirror. “First, mademoiselle
, my esthetician will give you a facial.”
“You wear too much makeup, chérie
." The esthetician removed Amanda’s eye makeup and the layers of foundation. “You have good skin—why cover it up? And your bright red lipstick is too harsh for your coloring. Try this.” She deftly applied a brush of rose tint to Amanda´s lips. “That and a touch of mascara is all you need.”
Chantelle fluffed Amanda’s hair back into place, and at last allowed her a look in the mirror. Amanda stared.
How, she wondered, as they drove to Lise’s apartment, is it possible to walk out of a beauty salon, looking more natural than when I came in?
The noonday sun flooded Lise’s country kitchen. She had set the wooden table with cloth placemats and napkins, real silverware, and fine crystal glasses.
Amanda blinked. “All this for lunch—just for us two?”
For lunch, Lise served arugula salad and vegetable soup. She passed Amanda the breadbasket. Amanda found herself taking a slice of baguette and buttering it with the homemade butter. She took a sip of Chablis. A wedge of Brie followed, then fresh strawberries with a sprinkling of sugar.
Amanda nibbled at the strawberries and savored the excellent coffee.
Funny, the portions are so small, yet I feel quite satisfied
“You prepared all this yourself, Lise?”
“But of course. And now I always like to take a walk after lunch. Will you join me?”
* * *
Amanda found herself doing strange things. She went to a farmer’s market and bought cherries and peaches. She made meatloaf for dinner from scratch, just like her mother use to, and the next day made a sandwich with the leftovers.
She spent nearly thirty minutes at a parfumerie deciding on a tiny bottle of Violet de Chanel. From the shop she walked three blocks to see an exhibition of French landscape painting Lise had recommended.
She even got up enough courage to purchase a handbag at Giselle’s to match her new shoes without bringing Lise along to help her make a decision.
For a moment she contemplated going to the swimsuit department. Summer was far from over and…But her courage failed her.
About two weeks after having lunch at Lise’s place, she weighed herself…
Impossible! I’ve lost four pounds
Just then her smartphone rang.
“Amanda, I am giving a dinner party on the twenty-eighth. You will come?”
A dinner party? “I…I don’t know. I—.”
“You must wear your new dress. Bernard, André’s cousin, is visiting from Paris. He is an avocet
—an attorney. And very handsome. And one of André’s business associates—Daniel—American but very nice. I will expect you at six.”
“I’ll be there.”
And tomorrow—I’ll get my nails done at Chantel’s