By: Lola Taylor

“Burning up the calories (reminders) of her past.” That was what Becca preached.

Easy enough for Becca to talk. She already looked like a supermodel. Amy felt like a hippopotamus next to her. Every time she saw Becca in a cute outfit, she couldn’t help but think, “Wow, that’s cute... but it wouldn’t be on me for X,Y, Z reasons.”

Low self-esteem about your body image majorly sucked.

So did being covered in super-expensive yellow paint that apparently had no plans to come off her body anytime soon.

She all but crawled into the gym, squinting at the bright lights. Even at eleven o’clock on a weeknight, there were a ton of people here. Were they battery powered? Or bionic? How did they still have so much energy?

Probably because they haven’t been performing manual labor all day.

Casting them all begrudging looks for their effortless perkiness and toned bodies, she dragged her feet toward a petite brunette clad in hot-pink sweats. Her skin was lightly tanned—all natural, since she spent so much time outdoors—and her long, dark-brown hair was up in a ponytail. She was just tying her sneakers when she looked up at Amy—and frowned. “Why are you covered in yellow paint?” Becca asked. “Oh, wait a minute. Let me guess.” She straightened and pretended to think. “You’re doing a modern piece on canvas and decided to use your body as the paintbrush this time?”

“No, but I’ve thought about that.” Amy stretched her sore legs with a groan before she hopped on the treadmill.

Becca didn’t press her for details. It was something Amy loved about her. She didn’t pry; rather, she let Amy tell her what was bugging her when she was ready.

The girls ran alongside each other. Well, Amy speed-walked. Sort of. “Speed-limped” was more like it. Becca did all the running. Amy didn’t mind running—she actually kind of enjoyed it—but today was one of those days where she preferred to walk.

Or go to sleep on that comfy-looking bench over there.

“How’d the move go?” Becca asked after a moment.

“Eh,” was all Amy said.

“That good, huh?”

Amy sighed. “It’s a long story.”

A few moments of silence passed between them. Becca cast her a guilty frown. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help out with the move.”

“It’s okay,” Amy said warmly, instantly giving her a smile. “I know you couldn’t help it.”

Becca scowled. “My brother can be a pain in the ass sometimes. I can’t believe he got kicked out of school again. Do you have any idea how long I spent in the principal’s office sorting his shit out?”

Becca, now twenty-five, had guardianship of her little brother, who was thirteen.

Amy gave her friend a sympathetic look. “Fighting again?”

“Nah. This time he’s graduated to robbery. Took some kid’s lunch money.”

“Damn. That’s low.” Amy should know—she had some not so fond memories of being the kid who got picked on.

“Tell me about it.” Becca’s frown tightened as her eyes narrowed, and then she sighed. She punched the speed dial back on the treadmill until she walked at the same pace as Amy. Which, considering the shape of her aching legs, wasn’t very fast. “I hate to see him acting out like this, but I don’t know what else I can do. I’ve tried hobbies, sports, clubs...nothing sticks.”

“What about his therapy sessions with his counselor?”

“You know, I’m not sure, considering he doesn’t freaking go to any.”

Amy’s heart twisted for her friend. She was trying really hard. Despite her being only twelve years older than her brother, she did a damned better job at the “mom” thing than most older women could. The kid was damned lucky to have her. Now, if only he would realize that.

“It’ll be all right,” Amy said encouragingly. “Don’t give up trying to get through to him. Some kids take awhile to see you’re only trying to help.”

Becca gave her a small smile. “Thanks, Ames.” She stared at Amy’s legs and then her arms and chest. “Jeez, that stuff isn’t coming off, is it?”

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