I wanted to look and feel my best at my wedding. What bride doesn’t? So three months before the big day, I stripped naked, stepped in front of a mirror, and took stock of my goals.
I had work to do, no doubt about it. My hips have always been my biggest problem area. I definitely needed to do something about them. Same with my stomach. And of course, my neck tattoo, which says, property of Chainsaw
. I traced my fingers over the faded script, sighing in disgust. I don’t care how good of a kisser your ninth-grade boyfriend is; never get a tattoo of his name outside the bikini area.
These problem areas weren’t going to magically fix themselves, so I decided to join a gym and booked a session with a personal trainer named Diego.
After we’d introduced ourselves, Diego asked me about my fitness goals. I told him that my wedding was in three months, and I wanted toned arms, a flat stomach, and sculpted legs. He told me he’d like a nine-inch cock that prints money.
I thought that was harsh, but I had to respect his tough-love approach. And I realized it might be just the ticket.
Diego walked me over to the machines and instructed me to jog on a treadmill while he tracked my time by playing Grand Theft Auto IV on his phone. I logged thirty minutes, and then we set up a schedule where we’d meet twice a week. He also suggested I clean up my diet by drinking more water and prioritizing lean protein. I recognized that I had a long road ahead, but I left the gym feeling pretty good about my plan.
As I was walking down the street toward 7-Eleven, mentally listing the reasons why a Monterey Jack taquito and Sour Patch Kids counted as lean protein, an unfamiliar voice called out to me. I turned and saw a fit fortysomething woman with spiky hair leaning against a brick wall.
“Hey. Are you serious about getting that bridal body?”
Hell yes, I was. But how did this lady know my deal? She answered me before I could even ask.
“I saw you talking with Diego,” she said, eyeing me up and down. “They give him . . . cases like yours.”
I nodded. She was plainspoken, like Diego, but I liked her candor. I gestured to my body. “What should I do?”
She took out a scrap of paper and scribbled something on it.
“Meet me at the docks at one a.m. And bring this in cash.”
I looked down at the paper. “This is a receipt from Pick A Bagel.”
“On the back.”
The mysterious stranger had written down a huge sum of money. Enough money to straight-up buy a new life. And almost as much as what I’d been quoted to have a scientist graft my face onto a really hot person’s body.
I pocketed the paper and told the spiky-haired lady I’d have to think it over.
And that night, as my fiancé, Matt, slept peacefully beside me, I did.
I thought back to our first date, in Central Park. It was a sunny afternoon in early autumn, and we lost track of time walking around the reservoir, talking and laughing. As I cast my mind back to that golden day, I reached out and touched his hair, overcome with love for him. I just completely lucked out with Matt. He was sweet and funny, and what’s more, he made me feel sexy as hell. But our chemistry went so much further than our physical connection; we electrified and nourished each other on a deep soul level. I’m not a religious person, but in Matt I had found a kind of cosmic completion, a reason to exist. A reason for anything to exist.
So at the end of the day, I had to admit that he deserved a bridal body that was hot as freaking hell. I slipped out of bed, made a few calls, emptied our savings account, and kissed Matt goodbye as he slept.
When I got to the docks, the spiky-haired woman seemed startled to see me. “I wasn’t sure you had it in you,” she said.
“You’re damn right it’s in me,” I said, tossing over the bag of money with a swagger.
Spiky Hair checked to make sure it was all there, then rose and knocked me out with a single quick punch.
When I came to, I was blindfolded in the back of a truck, my head throbbing and my hands tied behind my back. I could hear low, guttural voices, but I didn’t recognize their language. My mouth felt like it hadn’t touched water for days. Finally the truck came to a stop, and my captors dragged me out. Spiky Hair ripped the blindfold from around my eyes. The light was blinding, and all I could smell was mud. “March,” she commanded, and I did. Later, when my eyes adjusted, I saw that we were trekking through a barren gorge. Two grueling hours later, we reached the opening of a cave.
By this point I had had just about enough. I was starving, sunburned, and wheezing from the repeated blows meted out by Spiky. To be honest with you, I was also waffling over whether I had made the right decision. I realized that I needed a snack and a breather, just to check in with myself and kind of see where I was at. So I stopped and asked Spiky if she had a healthful treat, such as a Clif Bar in the Carrot Cake flavor.
She turned back and looked at me like I was nuts.
“I know,” I said. “It’s no White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, but you have to save those bullets for when you really need them, right?”
Spiky grabbed me by the front of my fleece and flung me down into the mouth of the cave. My head bounced off the hard-packed dirt floor. As I lay there, spitting up dirt and a shard of a bloody tooth, she kicked me in the ribs. Hard. It was at that moment that I mentally disinvited her from my bridal shower.
Staggering into the cave, I squinted my eyes and struggled to make out the dark shapes that loomed before me. Slowly, my vision began to focus.
There were about forty women training in a cement studio. Rock-hard abs, chiseled triceps, and hollowed-out clavicles for miles. A bare fluorescent light bulb hung from the dripping ceiling.
Spiky strode past me and blew a whistle. The women froze.
“Brides, we have a new recruit.” She dragged me forward and pushed me toward the group. I felt the daggers of forty pairs of eyes on my broken body. Spiky continued. “You’re here because you have the desire to succeed. But do you have the will to endure?” She swept her hand around the room. “Look around you. Only half will survive.”
I looked to the woman on my left. She was cute and blond, with adorable freckles and pearl studs in her ears. I guessed she was in her midtwenties. She was wearing a tank top that said the mrs. in glitter, and her ankles were wrapped snugly in pink one-pound weights. I was just about to ask where she’d found her adorable fitness accessories when she snapped her head forward, knocking her skull into my forehead with a sickening thwack.
My journey had begun.
I was assigned a straw mat on the floor of a long tunnel, and I kept to myself. My only possessions were my Fitbit, my slop pail, and my picture of Matt. I drew it from memory on a scrap of bat wing. Every night, after Zumba and our vicious nude wrestling matches, I would kiss it.
Two weeks after I’d started the program, I looked better than I’d ever dared to dream. I had lost five pounds and I could actually see some definition in my arms! I went to my room, packed my bags, and thanked my trainer for all her help.
When I awoke from the beating she gave me, my trainer informed me that I wasn’t even 5 percent of the way through the program. For starters, I needed to drop my BMI by 40 percent, add eleven pounds of muscle and six pounds of tittyfat. And even if I did achieve those stats, I wouldn’t decide I was done; I would be told.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to look so amazing on my wedding day.
Later that night, as I rubbed a numbing poultice into my wounds, a troubling thought crept into my mind. When I was through with the program, I was going to be really hot. In fact, I would probably be so hot that I didn’t really know if Matt and I would make sense anymore. I mentally scrolled through the men who would be left in my league, and all I came up with was Tom Hiddleston, nineties-era Denzel, and Shang from Mulan. I sat for a moment and pondered the absurdity of my situation: training for a wedding that would be rendered obsolete by my very training. But I decided I had to see where this journey would take me. So I blew out my lantern, lay down on my mat, and went to sleep.
Seven winters passed. --This text refers to the hardcover