Chapter 26:

Love Goes through the Stomach

Fair, no Fair

As we were cleaning the plates, I suddenly remembered something I had been meaning to ask Joey. I hesitantly looked up at him and asked: “Joey, I've always wondered: How are you able to eat so much? And -more impressively- how are you able to eat so fast?”

For a moment he looked at me like I was speaking a different language but then he burst out with laughter and almost dropped a plate. “Where does that question come from?”

I felt more than a little embarrassed that my curiosity had gotten the better of me. Maybe this had been a dumb thing to ask. “Well, it's not that weird of a question, is it? During any meal, whenever I take a look at you, your plate is either stacked with food or the food's already gone!" I sputtered in an effort to defend myself. "It’s like you’re secretly using a vacuum cleaner on your plate whenever I’m not looking!”

Joey could not stop laughing for a solid minute but when he calmed down, he shrugged, a big, goofy grin plastered across his face. “It's one of the benefits that comes with exercising a lot. I’ve got a large, tall body but the metabolism of a doormouse so I can eat whatever the hell I want. My body needs a lot of energy to sustain itself." He subtly moved his attention back to the task of washing the plates. “I'm not used to eating much at home, so when I get the chance to, I take it.”

"What do you mean? I don't mean to overstep but... do you not have enough money to spend on food at home?" I wondered worriedly. I could hardly remember anything about the time me and Alex had spent at Joey’s house when we were younger and the things that I did remember mostly involved the games we had played, not Joey’s home life.

“Oh no, not at all. It's quite the opposite, actually,” Joey snickered weakly, putting another plate on the growing tower of undried dishes. My frown deepened, I would need to be quicker if I wanted to catch up. He continued: “My mom likes to pretend she's a world-renowned chef. She follows the current food trends, goes to expensive masterclasses given by Michelin-star chefs, she even has meet-ups with her friends to exchange recipes and chat about the best ways to prepare dishes! Most importantly, however, is that her dishes are also Michelin-star-restaurant sized... By which I mean incredibly tiny."

He now started on the cutlery and I was struggling to keep up. Joey -engrossed in both his task and the story- did not notice that the pile of dishes was becoming increasingly unstable. Picking out plates to dry was quickly becoming a game of high-stakes game of Jenga which slowed me down even more.

“Don’t get me wrong, her food tastes amazing and I don't want to sound ungrateful because I'm not... I love her cooking!" he exclaimed passionately. "But it's difficult getting the nutrients and calories I need because she insists on making such small portions. I try to eat more during breakfast and lunch, but I can’t exactly fit a dinner-sized meal in my bag alongside my books and laptop.”

“You say that she insists on making small portions, but have you talked to her about needing bigger meals?” I asked critically. The pile of washed-but-not-yet-dried dishes seemed to be growing at the same pace as my concern for Joey's well-being, but I was afraid he would drop the topic if I did not press on now.

Joey remorsefully shook his head. “I want to but... Cooking is her passion. It's one of the few things that genuinely makes her happy. I don't want to do anything that could ruin it for her." His shoulders slumped down and I could now see that there was an additional reason why Joey was so consumed by his task; he did not dare to look up at me for fear of revealing how he was truly feeling. The dreadful expression on his face frightened me.

“She’s been feeling down lately but pretends everything is fine for my sake," he went on to say. "I don’t want to take anything away that brings her joy. I care about her. I care about her so, so much. So, I've decided to play along. I pretend like I don't notice how her 'bad days' are starting to outnumber the good ones. I pretend like I'm happy when I'm not, so she won't have to worry about me too."

Joey finally snapped out of his melancholic state when he noticed the dangerously unstable Jenga tower of plates, glasses and cutlery on the kitchen top. "Oh god, I'm sorry, I didn't notice I was going too fast for you," he laughed. "Do you need any help drying?"

And just like that, the moment had passed.

“Oh, it's alright, you don't have to help me dry the dishes! But give me some time to catch up!” I quickly replied.

Joey's miserable mood vanished as quickly as it had appeared but it left a lasting impact on me. If Joey could fool his own mother into believing that he was truly happy, then how much of the happy-go-lucky persona he so carefully constructed around others was pretend? I wondered if he had shown this vulnerable side of himself to anyone but me. I wondered whether he would ever show it to me again. 

Fair, No Fair cover

Fair, no Fair