Construction with Benefits by Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

artistic shot of small ladder with shadow of ladder and feet off to side.

Last summer two unexpected events happened that changed how I weigh my chance at love. First, I discovered that I didn’t fit into the chairs at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. I’ve gone to the Delacorte for years to hear Shakespeare performed under the stars. The seats hadn’t shrunk; I’d gotten bigger. A lot bigger. I’ve always struggled with my weight but recently, stressed out after leaving my full-time job to freelance and, defeated by my latest dating disaster, I gave up and ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I ignored the extra pounds piling on, and on, until the moment I stuffed myself into that shiny green seat—its plastic armrests digging torturously into my fleshy hips throughout Taming of the Shrew. I couldn’t imagine being intimate with anyone at this size, so I quit dating. Seamless became the secret lover I messaged late at night when I was food horny. ‘Sup, Baby? Express reorder me the Pad Thai. You know how I like it. Side of crab rangoons and come fast. Real fast.

The second event wasn’t entirely unexpected. For the third time since moving to my old, drafty, 1.5-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens, a pipe burst. This time, however, the plumber punched a meteorite-sized hole in the living room ceiling to fix the leak. But when my door buzzed early one Wednesday morning, instead of the gruff, mansplaining handyman my landlord previously sent over to fix the damage when the pipe in my bathroom burst, I was shocked to find HIM standing there. The guy in charge of the crew renovating the apartment on the first floor. The guy I called Dimples in my mind. An appropriate nickname because, at the sight of me, he flashed a smile that made the two adorable indentations in his cheeks gleam as brightly as the square chips of cubic zirconia adorning his ears.

We’d run into each other earlier in the summer. Freshly showered, hair straightened, and makeup perfectly in place, I’d traded in my work-from-home outfit of shapeless sweatpants and a tank top for a sassy black summer dress. Despite the fact that I was wearing shorts underneath to smooth me down and prevent chub rub, I felt super cute for the first time since the Shakespeare in the Park seat debacle. As I floated by the first-floor apartment on my way out to dinner, the door opened, and he walked right into me. Turning to say something to what he thought was one of the other guys, his eyes widened when he saw me instead. His gaze traveled down to my feet and back up in a blink, lingering long enough on my cleavage to make his meaning clear.

He followed me outside and apologized for the noisy renovations. I lied and said it hadn’t been that bad. Our entire exchange lasted less than a minute. A brief ego-boosting moment that I giggled with my friend about at the restaurant and then forgot after the second glass of wine lowered my carb inhibitions, and I attacked the bread basket.

But now here he was, stepping into the solitary kingdom of my apartment, trickles of sweat escaping from the edges of his thick, black hair and trailing down the soft caramel skin on his neck before disappearing underneath his white t-shirt.

“¿Cómo se llama?” he asked, setting up his ladder beneath my ceiling hole. Standing in the small box of my kitchen, I poured him a glass of water. I didn’t answer, thinking he was speaking to the other guy who’d come in and was busy covering my couch with a sheet of plastic. It had just dawned on me that asking his co-worker’s name was weird when I heard my front door close.

“You don’t speak Spanish?” he asked. Me. The other guy had left.

“Oh, no. Well, a little,” I stammered, the flush of embarrassment clawing up my pale neck. Holding my hand out flat, I waved it back and forth gesturing so so and said, “asi asi.”

“I will teach you Spanish.”

The bright dimples on his baby face punctuated his firm declaration as he took the glass of water from my hand. Next to where we stood, on the other side of the large archway cutting my living room in half, sat my queen-sized bed. I call my apartment a 1.5 bedroom because the actual bedroom is so small I couldn’t fit my bed in there. Instead, I transformed the back half of the living room into my bedroom and use the other tiny room as a home office.

“That is some bed,” he said. Reading my mind or, perhaps, following my gaze. Suddenly I realized this exquisite man was not only standing in my living room but he was in my bedroom as well. I wore a different summer dress, baggy instead of sassy, with floppy pockets. My frizzy hair was in a ponytail, and I still had my glasses on. When Dimples went down to the truck to get some equipment, I dashed into the bathroom and brushed out my hair, popped in my contacts, and dabbed on enough makeup to make me look less like a hot mess, but not so much as to be too, too obvious.

Dimples returned a few moments later with the other guy in tow. I let them in and then retreated to the tiny office room. Unable to concentrate on work, I posted on Facebook.

Thank you Universe for sending the hot guy who has been renovating the apartment downstairs to fix my ceiling today — that makes up for a LOT.

I was joking. But I couldn’t sit still. I finally got up the nerve to wander back into the living room, where I heard him say,

“Muy bonita. Do you know what that means?”

Yes, I know what that means!

“Yes,” I replied, all too aware of the shorts I once again had on under my dress, the stubble on my legs, and my horrible granny panties. Stop it. Nothing’s going to happen. Still, I wondered where the other guy had gone. And when was he coming back?

“Don’t go,” Dimples said as I scuttled back toward my office, “stay here. Talk to me.”

“Talk about what?”

“I don’t know,” he said, his thick eyelashes kissing the tops of his cheeks as he looked down at the floor. “You make me nervous.”

“I make you nervous,” I parroted.

“Yes, since that day in the hall. You remember?” he asked, stepping toward me.

“I remember.”

“Ever since, when I see you,” he said, “you make me so nervous. Here, feel how fast my heart is beating.”

My soul rolled its eyes. But then he took my hand and placed it over the perfect pectoral swell of his chest. Underneath the thin fabric of his t-shirt, his heart pounded away at a twitterpated rate.

Kiss me.

What! In the midst of the street?

What! are thou ashamed of me?

No, sir, God forbid, but ashamed to kiss.

Come, my sweet Kate. Better once than never, for never too late.

…is what Petruchio said to Katherine in Padua. Dimples and I were more like,

“I want you so bad.”

“When’s that other guy coming back?”

“Soon. Hurry.”

Plastic protected the furniture, plaster dust coated the floor, and his mouth mercifully took over mine as I struggled to remember the lines no one had bothered to write. Watching myself in the play-within-a-play going on in my living room, I mentally shifted back into my shiny green seat at the Delacorte, its imaginary armrests jabbing accusations at the fat encasing my hips, a painful reminder that this surreal scene would surely come to an end once I was found out. But when he reached under my dress, Dimples tugged off my fat-girl shorts and tossed them aside without a word. Ripping off his shirt, I steered him toward the bed.

I’d taken all the cushions off of the couch, in case it needed to be moved, and piled them high on my bed. Now, a woman possessed by neglected passion, I turned and swept cushions and pillows onto the floor in a mad frenzy. Once I’d cleared a path in the stacks, he pushed me down. And just like that, life went from Wednesday to Telenovela.

Except I cringed whenever my jelly rolls jiggled at his touch. In contrast, every inch of his body was smooth, sculpted muscle. As if absorbing my insecurity along with my sweat, he whispered in my ear,

“You are so beautiful. And I like your big butt.”

It wasn’t Shakespeare, but after a year of sexting with my Seamless account, it was welcome poetry. Afterward, he asked if he could take a shower. Still lying in a puddle of disbelief between my defiled couch cushions, I nodded.

“I apologize if I have overreached,” he said. I watched him with wonder as he towel-dried his rich, wet skin in the doorway of my bathroom before stepping back into his jockeys. After what we’d done, he was worried that using my shower was overreaching?

For a week there was a knock at my door around 10 a.m., followed by stolen kisses whenever “the other guy” left the room, and a flurry of clothes during Dimples’ lunch break. The damage was repaired that first morning. But the ceiling still needed to dry, be sanded, and then repainted. I wondered if he kept extending the job on purpose, but I didn’t mind. Eventually, though, the ceiling was fixed, the fling flung, and real life resumed.

These two humidity-drenched events—me getting too big for my seat at the Delacorte and me getting naked with a man whose body belongs on an underwear ad billboard—are only related to each other by the fact that I never dreamed they could exist simultaneously. But in reality, just as there’s no guarantee I’ll find love once I lose the weight, it’s stupid to wait until I do to try.

Kelly Jean.FitzsimmonsKelly Jean Fitzsimmons is a writer, teacher, and storyteller. After earning her MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University, she created No, YOU Tell It!, a switched-up storytelling series with a twist: Each NYTI participant develops their own story on the page and then flips scripts with a partner to present each other’s story on stage. Learn more and listen to the podcast at noyoutellit.com. Follow her @KJ_Fitzsimmons.

 

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Paul Bischoff

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  • After immersing myself in much of this journal’s intense writing that exquisitely portrays the of pain, loss, and grief of life (including my own), this delightful piece made me laugh aloud and cheer for the author. Sometimes we just take ourselves and our bodies (whatever size) too seriously. What a fun story!