Running through sand burns more calories that just walking on the street right? Abby asked herself as she picked up her pace and raced across the shores of north-east lake Michigan. It was only nine o’clock in the morning so the sand was still cool from the night before. Abby, as always, was in a rush for no reason.
Every year, the Peterson family packed their bags and piled into their 8-seat SUV and made the trip to their family cabin in northern Michigan. It was a tradition that all six Petersons thoroughly enjoyed. Abby was the oldest of the four Peterson kids; Nicole, Jacob, and Joel were the younger three below her. The packed car plus six people made the drive almost unbearable for a six-foot two-inch, seventeen year old and her three younger siblings. Joel’s blankets, books, and stuffed animals tumbled from the top of the mound of colored packed bags shoved behind Jacob’s head in the back seat; he didn’t seem to mind, he had his iPod touch to keep him busy for five hours. Nicole sat to the right of Abby on the middle bench and had her music turned up way too loud, Abby could feel the vibrations of the country music Pandora station pulse out of Nicole’s wireless headphones.
“Would you turn that down please?” Abby shoved Nicole’s arm and begged, “I’m trying to finish this book and your terrible music is polluting my ears. I can’t think!”
Nicole rolled her eyes, unlocked her phone and moved the volume bar down by a millimeter, which did absolutely nothing.
Abby reached to tap her mom’s shoulder to see if she could do anything about Nicole and she knocked over a package of Slim Jims stacked on a box of Cheez-its, balancing on a bowl of green grapes that Mrs. Peterson had washed and packed to eat in the car.
“What the heck, Abby?” cried Nicole. All the snacks toppled over and spilled on Nicole’s lap. Abby giggled under her breath, decided it’d be no use to bring her mom into the situation, and turned back to her book.
Abby was one to get lost in anything she read, she adored meeting new characters, learning their stories, and following wherever the words on the page would lead. After five hours of leg cramps and suffering from a terrible case of pins and needles in her left foot, the car was parked and the Petersons had finally arrived at their cabin on the lake. This arrival was the kick-off of the 17th annual Peterson family vacation.
The following morning, Abby was up and running at eight o’clock. As a cross-country athlete with an extreme fitness obsession, she was ready to hold a seven-day personal training camp for herself. She wanted to look her best for her senior photos and for the school year in general. There was nothing that could tear her attention away from burning those calories everyday.
As she continued running along an empty shoreline, as she had already done for over an hour, she glanced down at her watch. No one would be up at the cabin for another hour or two so she kept on running. A large piece of driftwood had been rolled up as a large fresh-water wave crashed over the shore. Since Abby was closing her eyes and humming along with the music streaming through her earphones, she didn’t notice the splintered wood until it had caught her shoe. She folded over it and face-planted into the sand. Hopefully no one saw what had just happened. It was too early in the morning for most vacationers to be out on the water, but you can never be too sure.
She shook herself off and started to run back to the cabin, her sweat made sand stick to her entire body, including particular spots she didn’t want sand to be stuck. Abby immediately started thinking about the day. What she would eat, what she would do with her family, what bathing suit she would wear, what she would eat, how she was going to do her hair. What would she eat? This was the dreaded daily question. Mr. Peterson was known to make fabulous vacation breakfasts every year. Eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes, and sausage would fill every plate on the table. However, this was the last thing Abby wanted to think about. She would never admit to it, even if someone asked to her face, but she had been counting calories, obsessing over food and not letting herself eat much of it. If she did have “too much” one day, before she went to sleep, she simply took a trip to her bathroom and threw it up. She had to keep the weight off, no matter what; thin was what a perfect athlete looked like and she wanted to be seen as just that.
In the past year, she was able to lose seventy pounds and her parents didn’t notice. Being the oldest of four made it easy to fade out of focus, while the little ones got all the parental attention. Abby starved herself under her parents’ radar for over a year, but now she would have to face them and her siblings. In One house at one table. No car, no place to run – besides down the beach. Once she made it back to the cabin, Abby slid the screen door open and popped back into to cabin. Her fingers shook with anxiety as the door’s latch clicked. A 40 inch flat screen playing cartoons mesmerized Jacob and Joel as they attempted to get spoonfuls of eggs into their mouths. Nicole was on the couch listening to music, already finished inhaling her breakfast, mom was at the table holding a mug of coffee with an empty place in front of her and dad was about to sit down.
“Do you want some honey?” Mr. Peterson pointed at the stove with his spatula, “I can make you anything you want”.
“No it’s fine dad, I had some food before I went on my run,” she lied and walked up the stairs. Putting on her new bikini she had bought days before the trip, she looked at herself for a long time in the mirror. What is this spot right here? What is this roll of skin doing here? My thigh gap was definitely better yesterday, what did I do? I can’t go down looking like this, what if there are other people at the beach? What if they look better than me?
She frowned and sat down on the bed behind her covered in floral sheets and blankets. Apparently Abby had spent much more time looking in the mirror than she thought and her two little brothers came running up the stairs, “sissy let’s go to the beach! C’mon, c’mon!”
Abby was glad it was only the boys who saw her, they were the least observant. Slipping on a pair of athletic shorts and a large t-shirt, she made her way back down the stairs. Nicole had her bag ready to go with sunscreen, towels, water bottles and hats for both her and Abby. The two sisters walked down together, following the lead of Jacob and Joel who both tripped a few times trying to race each other to the lake.
Nicole had the body that Abby longed for, both skinny and curvy. This was perfection, and Nicole didn’t even have to work at it. It was only day two of what was supposed to be a relaxing family trip but Abby had a feeling it would end up being a comparison nightmare between her own mind and body. She didn’t want to think about food, or weight, or how “out-of-shape” Nicole claimed to be right now. Abby just wanted to run; so she did. Once making it down the boardwalk and to the shore, Abby dropped her bags and began to sprint.
Running down through the crowds outstretched on the beach, clouds of sand trailed behind her with every stride she made. The accident with the wood from earlier made me slow down, I lost time and the calories I was supposed to burn when I did that. I need to go longer this time, push myself harder. These thoughts looped in Abby’s mind over and over again. Faster, harder, I can’t waste time like this, the weight could come back. She needed to find a way to still seem fine and normal on this trip. She couldn’t lose a week of weight loss or she would make herself sick. These were going to be the longest seven days she had ever endured.
The private section of the beach that her family’s cabin belonged to merged into the public area and Abby stopped before she hit a tall man with a little girl on his shoulders. As Abby looked up at him, the man lifted a girl who looked to be about three or four years old with light brown hair and pigtails, and placed her in the water. The two of them held hands and walked deeper into the water to catch the girl’s bucket that was drifting away in the waves. Abby sat down and watched the father and daughter play in the sand for a bit. She loved how happy and proud the dad looked as his daughter rambled on to herself and continued to scoop and dump buckets of water on her own head. They both laughed and Abby noticed that the daughter and father had the same smile with a single dimple on the right side of their faces. For a moment, Abby was completely engrossed in the life of this other family; wishing she was young, able to make different choices, and be a proud member of the Peterson family. The reality seemed to be the opposite. As the little girl laughed and laughed, a slight smile appeared on Abby’s face. All of a sudden she was jerked from her day dream by the sound of her father’s voice.
“Abby! Abby! Why did you go this far down without telling anyone? You just sprinted off!” Her dad could barely get his words out between heavy breaths, he was not the fittest man. “Honey, what are you doing all the way down here?”
“Sorry dad, I just started running. It was my fault, I lost track of time, I just hit a high and couldn’t stop, you know?”
“Yes, I understand. Now let’s get back to our property, all right? Spend some time with our family. Your mother and I were talking and we realized that we never see you anymore, you’re so busy in the summer.”
“I know dad, she told me that last week. Mom ‘wanted to make sure I was being safe, so I needed to start checking in with her more often when I was out of the house’” Abby mocked, creating air quotes with her hands.
“I agree with her, but that doesn’t matter right now.”
He waved Abby over to his side and put his hand over her shoulder, pulling her into him.
“No matter what, you know I love you, right?” He blurted out with his eyes still staring at the open water.
“Right,” she said, staring off right with him.
“I’m so happy you’re here. I’m so proud of what you have done so far in high school and I am excited to see you finish out your final year.”
“Thanks dad. I’m happy I’m here too.”