Or, at least, she did. That was before she left the pop-idol life behind after she gained a dress size or two—and lost a boyfriend, a recording contract, and her life savings (when Mom took the money and ran off to Argentina). Now that the glamour and glory days of endless mall appearances are in the past, Heather's perfectly happy with her new size 12 shape (the average for the American woman!) and her new job as an assistant dorm director at one of New York's top colleges. That is, until the dead body of a female student from Heather's residence hall is discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft.
The cops and the college president are ready to chalk the death off as an accident, the result of reckless youthful mischief. But Heather knows teenage girls… and girls do not elevator surf. Yet no one wants to listen—not the police, her colleagues, or the P.I. who owns the brownstone where she lives—even when more students start turning up dead in equally ordinary and subtly sinister ways. So Heather makes the decision to take on yet another new career: as spunky girl detective!
But her new job comes with few benefits, no cheering crowds, and lots of liabilities, some of them potentially fatal. And nothing ticks off a killer more than a portly ex-pop star who's sticking her nose where it doesn't belong.
Size 12 Is Not Fat
A Heather Wells Mystery
Every time I see you
I get a Sugar Rush
You’re like candy
You give me a Sugar Rush
Don’t tell me stay on my diet
You have simply got to try it
Performed by Heather Wells
Written by Valdez/Caputo
From the albumSugar Rush
“Um, hello. Is anyone out there?” The girl in the dressing room next to mine has a voice like a chipmunk. “Hello?”
Exactly like a chipmunk.
I hear a sales clerk come over, his key chain clinking musically. “Yes, ma’am? Can I help you?”
“Yeah.” The girl’s disembodied—but still chipmunk like—voice floats over the partition between our cubicles. “Do you guys have these jeans in anything smaller than a size zero?”
I pause, one leg in and one leg out of the jeans I am squeezing myself into. Whoa. Is it just me, or was that really existential? Because what’s smaller than a size zero? Negative something, right?
Okay, so it’s been a while since sixth grade math. But I do remember there was this number line, with a zero in the middle, and—
“Because,” Less Than Zero/Chipmunk Voice is explaining to the sales clerk, “normally I’m a size two. But these zeros are completely baggy on me. Which is weird. I know I didn’t lose weight since the last time I came in here.”
Less Than Zero has a point, I realize as I pull up the jeans I’m trying on. I can’t remember the last time I could fit into a size 8. Well, okay, Ican. But it’s not a period from my past that I particularly relish.
What gives? Normally I wear 12s… but I tried on the 12s, and I was swimming in them. Same with the 10s. Which is weird, because I haven’t exactly been on any kind of diet lately—unless you count the Splenda I had in my latte at breakfast this morning.
But I’m sure the bagel with cream cheese and bacon I had with it pretty much canceled out the Splenda.
And it’s not exactly like I’ve been to the gym recently. Not that I don’t exercise, of course. I just don’t do it, you know, in the gym. Because you can burn just as many calories walking as you can running. So why run? I figured out a long time ago that a walk to Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker to see what kind of sandwich they have on special for lunch takes ten minutes.
And a walk from Murray’s over to Betsey Johnson on Wooster to see what’s on sale (love her stretch velvet!): another ten minutes.
And a walk from Betsey’s over to Dean & Deluca on Broadway for an after-lunch cappuccino and to see if they have those chocolate-covered orange peels I like so much: another ten minutes.
And so on, until before you know it, you’ve done a full sixty minutes of exercise. Who says it’s hard to comply with the government’s new fitness recommendations? If I can do it, anyone can.
But could all of that walking have caused me to drop two whole sizes since the last time I shopped for jeans? I know I’ve been cutting my daily fat intake by about half since I replaced the Hershey’s Kisses in the candy jar on my desk with free condoms from the student health center. But still.
“Well, ma’am,” the sales clerk is saying to Less Than Zero. “These jeans are stretch fit. That means that you’ve got to try two sizes lower than your true size.”
“What?” Less Than Zero sounds confused.
I don’t blame her. I feel the same way. It’s like number lines all over again.
“What I mean is,” the sales clerk says, patiently, “if you normally wear a size four, in stretch jeans, you would wear a size zero.”
“Why don’t you just put the real sizes on them, then?” Less Than Zero—quite sensibly, I think—asks. “Like if a zero is a really a four, why don’t you just label it a four?”
“It’s called vanity sizing,” the sales clerk says, dropping his voice.
“What sizing?” Less Than Zero asks, dropping her voice, too. At least, as much as a chipmunk can drop her voice.
“You know.” The sales clerk is whispering to Less Than Zero. But I can still hear him. “The larger customers like it when they can fit into an eight. But they’re really a twelve, of course. See?”
I fling open the door to my dressing room before I stop to think.
“I’m a size twelve,” I hear myself saying to the sales clerk. Who looks startled. Understandably, I guess. But still. “What’s wrong with being a size twelve?”
“Nothing!” cries the sales clerk, looking panicky. “Nothing at all. I just meant—”
“Are you saying size twelve is fat?” I ask him.
“No,” the sales clerk insists. “You misunderstood me. I meant—”
“Because size twelve is the size of the average American woman,” I point out to him. I know this because I just read it in People magazine. “Are you saying that instead of being average, we’re all fat?”
“No,” the sales clerk says. “No, that’s not what I meant at all. I—”
The door to the dressing room next to mine opens, and I see the owner of the chipmunk voice for the first time. She’s the same age as the kids I work with. She doesn’t just sound like a chipmunk, I realize. She kind of looks like one, too. You know. Cute. Perky. Small enough to fit in a normal-sized girl’s pocket.
“And what’s up with not even making her size?” I ask the sales clerk, jerking a thumb at Less Than Zero. “I mean, I’d rather be average than not even exist.”
Less Than Zero looks kind of taken aback. But then she goes, “Um. Yeah!” to the sales clerk.
The sales clerk swallows nervously. And audibly. You can tell he’s having a bad day. After work, he’ll probably go to some bar and be all “And then these women were just ON me about the vanity sizing…. It was awful!”
To us, he just says, “I, um, think I’ll just go, um, check and see if we have those jeans you were interested in the, um, back.”
Then he scurries away.
I look at Less Than Zero. She looks at me. She is maybe twenty-two, and very blond. I too am blond—with a little help from Lady Clairol—but I left my early twenties several years ago.
Still, it is clear that, age and size differences aside, Less Than Zero and I share a common bond that can never be broken:
We’ve both been dicked over by vanity sizing.
“Are you going to get those?” Less Than Zero asks, nodding at the jeans I have on.
“I guess,” I say. “I mean, I need a new pair. My last pair got barfed on at work.”
“God,” Less Than Zero says, wrinkling her chipmunk nose. “Where do you work?”
“Oh,” I say. “A dorm. I mean, residence hall. I’m the assistant director.”
“Rilly?” Less Than Zero looks interested. “At New York College?” When I nod, she cries, “I thought I knew you from somewhere! I graduated from New York College last year. Which dorm?”
“Um,” I say, awkwardly. “I just started there this summer.”
“Rilly?” Less Than Zero looks confused. “That’s weird. ’Cause you look so familiar… ”
Before I have a chance to explain to her why she thinks she knows me, my cell phone lets out the first few notes of the chorus of the Go-Go’s “Vacation” (chosen as a painful reminder that I don’t get any—vacation days, that is—until I’ve passed my six months’ probationary period at work, and that’s still another three months off). I see from the caller ID that it is my boss. Calling me on a Saturday.
Which means it has to be important. Right?
Except that it probably isn’t. I mean, I love my new job and all—working with college students is super fun because they’re so enthusiastic about stuff a lot of people don’t even think about, like freeing Tibet and getting paid maternity leave for sweatshop workers and all of that.
But a definite drawback about working at Fischer Hall is that I live right around the corner from it. Which makes me just a little more accessible to everyone there than I’m necessarily comfortable with. I mean, it is one thing to get calls at home from work because you are a doctor and one of your patients needs you.
But it is quite another thing to get calls at home from work because the soda machine ate someone’s change and no one can find the refund request forms and they want you to come over to help look for them.
Although I do realize to some people, that might sound like a dream come true. You know, living close enough to where you work to be able to drop by if there’s a small-change crisis. Especially in New York. Because my commute is two minutes long, and I do it on foot (four more minutes to add to my daily exercise quota).
But people should realize that, as far as dreams coming true, this one’s not the greatest, because I only get paid $23,500 a year (about $12,000 after city and state taxes), and in New York City, $12,000 buys you dinner, and maybe a pair of jeans like the ones I’m about to splurge on, vanity sized or not. I wouldn’t be able to live in Manhattan on that kind of salary if it weren’t for my second job, which pays my rent. I don’t get to “live in” because at New York College, only residence hall directors, not assistant directors, get the “benefit” of living in the dorm—I mean, residence hall—they work in.
Still, I live close enough to Fischer Hall that my boss feels like she can call me all the time, and ask me to “pop in” whenever she needs me.
Like on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon in September, when I am shopping for jeans, because the day before, a freshman who’d had a few too many hard lemonades at the Stoned Crow chose to roll over and barf them on me while I was crouching beside him, feeling for his pulse.
I’m weighing the pros and cons of answering my cell—pro: maybe Rachel’s calling to offer me a raise (unlikely); con: maybe Rachel’s calling to ask me to take some semicomatose drunk twenty-year-old to the hospital (likely)—when Less Than Zero suddenly shrieks, “Oh my God! I know why you look so familiar! Has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Heather Wells? You know, that singer?”
I decide, under the circumstances, to let my boss go to voice mail. I mean, things are going badly enough, considering the size 12 stuff, and now this. I totally should have just stayed home and bought new jeans online.
“You really think so?” I ask Less Than Zero, not very enthusiastically. Only she doesn’t notice my lack of enthusiasm.
“Oh my God!” Less Than Zero shrieks again. “You even sound like her. That is so random. But,” she adds, with a laugh, “what would Heather Wells be doing, working in a dorm, right?”
“Residence hall,” I correct her automatically. Because that’s what we’re supposed to call them, since calling it a residence hall allegedly fosters a feeling of warmth and unity among the residents, who might otherwise find living in something called a dorm too cold and institutional-like.
As if the fact that their refrigerators are bolted to the floor isn’t a dead giveaway.