This Year's Model

We're having lunch downtown. She feels like celebrating because after a long fight and strict adherence to a new diet and exercise program, she finally fits into the "goal pants" she bought herself late last year. And, I must add, she looks great.

She's going on about her health being better and just what to do with her new found self. For once, she says, she can't wait to go shopping for a bathing suit. Eventually she brings up the obvious topic and informs me that yes, she's getting a lot more attention from the men around her, wherever she goes.

She's going out more, she continues. She likes it now. She says she gets to cut in line at some of the swankier clubs around the city. Strangers smile at her on the street. Bartenders and waiters flirt with her. Boys and men are buying her drinks well before last call.

(That last one makes me want to punch every drunken male at every bar in the face.)

The topic turns to a mutual friend. Good guy, really. One of the few I actually endorse when female friends ask if I know anyone they might like to meet. I ask her if he's one of those boys who looks at her differently these days. She gets quiet. Starts playing with her salad while she tries to get the words right.

"He does, and it's . . . it's weird. We're just friends, so why do I catch him eyeballing me so much?"

Maybe he sees something in you now, I tell her. You accomplished something great. I bet he's drawn to that.

"It's not like that," she continues. "It's just that before, I would try to tell him about things. You know, I heard what people said about me, what boys at bars would call me."

I ask her who said what and tell her I'll kick their asses. She smiles.

"And fuck them is what I always said, and he would just keep quiet the whole time. Like he didn't even hear me when I'd try to open up to him. Now it's just hard to take him seriously. I never knew if he was listening before and now all of a sudden . . .

"It's just like, why is he like this now? Where was this 35 pounds ago?"

The part she doesn't know - the part I swore to him I wouldn't ever tell her - was that 35 pounds ago he was wild about her. Thirty-five pounds ago he would tell me things like "I don't care what anyone says, she's beautiful." Thirty-five pounds ago he was the one taking swings at those guys at the bar when he heard what they called her as she walked by.

Thirty-five pounds ago I would tell him to just ask her out already. Thirty-five pounds ago he didn't listen.

He was afraid she would say no and it would put too much of a strain between them for him to hold on to what bond they already had. Now he was afraid that, with everyone else seeing in her what he thought only he did, someone taller or richer or better-looking than him would steal her away forever. In a very sad way, he had convinced himself he couldn't win with her either way.

I sigh just loud enough for her to understand that I don't know what to tell her, except that maybe she should be talking to him about this instead of me. And I hope she does.

Thirty-five pounds ago, I thought they would've been great together.