“Kianna, you have such a pretty face, honey.” Miss Bertha examines me as she leans on her tennis ball capped walker.
“If only you could lose weight.” Reaching out, she pats my ample tummy.
My mouth turns to cotton. Oh, no she didn’t!
I want so bad to respond, but words fail me. Heat creeps up my neck and floods my cheeks. Tears sting the back of my eyes as I glance around the church hall to see if anyone noticed this mortifying exchange.
“You know, a pretty girl like you could have any man she wanted if she took care of herself.” Miss Bertha squints her eyes, as if she’s analyzing the amount of effort it would take to make me truly suitable. “Your blonde hair and brown eyes are actually attractive.”
Actually attractive…I’m not sure if that counts as a compliment.
“I’m sure you’re right.” I mumble, clamping my mouth shut on what I want to say—you mean old biddy!
Miss Bertha shuffles forward and for a moment, her skirt looks like it is harboring a pack of wrestling puppies. And she thinks I need to lose weight? Isn’t that like the hippo calling the elephant fat?
I look for something to distract the nosy busybody. It’s Sunday night at Christ’s Covenant Restoration Branch, my church home since I was a baby. I thought a missionary service would be the one place I was safe.
Wrong. I wish Jason was here. My best friend since childhood, Jason Payne is like the big brother I never had. He always knows what to say or do to make a situation better, but he’s out of town and I’m on my own.
“Did you enjoy the missionary slides?” I ask, as the line moves again.
I want nothing more than to run away, but it would only give her more ammo. I hear her walker click as she moves forward a step with me.
“Oh, yes. The last set especially touched my heart. Jim is such an angel to be ministering to all those children in Africa. Brings tears to my eyes.” The fore-mentioned drops slide out and ride the wrinkled crevices in her cheeks.
Jim Noble is the hottest missionary I’ve ever laid eyes on. He also happens to be the sweetest. He attended the same church youth events with Jason and me for years and we all stayed good friends. That was before Jim grew into his ears and before his family moved to the mission field. It doesn’t matter. He’s not interested in me romantically. To him, I’m a friend. Like I am to every other male I know.
“He is a good man.” I agree. “I think it’s amazing how God is working in the communities over there.”
Her head wobbles in agreement. “Too bad he doesn’t have a wife to help him. He’s such a catch; I can’t imagine why he isn’t married yet. I told him so too, tonight.”
I bet you did. “I’m sure he’s waiting for the right person.”
I see Jim across the fellowship hall and feel a stab of sympathy. No one leaves a conversation with Miss Bertha unscathed.
“You might find he’d look your way if you slimmed down.” She eyes my hips and raises an eyebrow.
I bite my tongue. Oh, Lord. Get me out of here before I say something terrible.
“Pardon me, Miss Bertha. I see someone I need to speak to.”
I slide out of the refreshment line and speed walk across the room, ignoring the surprised and probably hurt look aimed at my back. Remembering the wrestling puppies, I slow down and fight the urge to smooth my shirt down over the back of my slacks.
Heaven help me, but I can’t take anymore of Miss Bertha’s supposedly helpful advice. I’m fat and I know it, but patting my tummy in the middle of a packed social hall is about the rudest thing I’ve experienced yet. Following it up with an attempt at conditional matchmaking, well, that’s par for the course.
A crowd still surrounds Jim, but he sees me, and waves. I’m surprised he notices me. I return his smile and wave back. Several of the women look surprised at the exchange. I can see the wheels turning in their heads, and after getting Bertha-d, I can’t bring myself to go over there.
Not that any of them would be hurtful. It’s just the opposite. Some of the women think being single is the only requirement for a successful relationship and they will push me toward anything with testosterone and a bare ring finger.
Chicken. I kick myself for letting Miss Bertha’s comments bother me so much, but they’re hard to ignore —mostly because, despite her tactless delivery, she’s right.
Walking to my car, late August heat billows off the black top like a humid oven. I pull open the car door and slide behind the wheel. My cell phone vibrates from the seat beside me. I pull the phone out of my purse and check the caller ID.
“Hi, Jason, I’m glad you called.”
“Miss me?” His deep voice echoes with humor and immediately brings lightness to my heart.
“Are you crying?”
“No.” I hesitate, “Not anymore.” I can’t lie to Jason.
“What happened?” He waits patiently in silence while I pull my thoughts together.
“Honestly, I got Bertha-d and I’m really emotional right now.” I give him a brief outline of the night’s events.
“I wish I could be there with you. I’m sorry I’m going to miss your birthday, but as soon as I’m back, I’m all yours.”
“Thank you, Jase.” I lean back into the head rest and close my eyes. “I’m feeling a bit better already.”
We say our goodbyes and I drop the phone back into my bag.I feel calmer, but the questions and insecurities are still there. Jesus, If you have a plan to show me, now would be a good time.