Mary Pfleuger began gaining weight when she was eleven. The freckles and myopia set in a few months later, and she didn’t stop growing until she was seventeen, coming in at a cool five foot nine. Her skin was cracked and pale and her hair, a dull, mousy brown, did not cascade down her back, rather it plummeted in uncoordinated waves that seemed more unfortunate than feminine. Most of these things, she couldn’t help. Mary had been genetically cursed. Her taste was questionable, like denim jumpsuits and plastic drugstore barrettes often are. Contacts were out of the question due to an inconvenient allergy, and makeup was far too much a mystery to even consider. Mary was the girl on the bus reading Japanese comics who most socially aware women would, perhaps not gawk at, but certainly wonder about: “Why does she dress like that? Does she care? Does she notice? Certainly she can see how much she stands out, but maybe that’s what she wants? She wants to look like that? I could understand being a Goth – at least the Goth girl can explain herself.”
Mary knew she was different, and she knew she wasn’t pretty, but she had never taken the time to address her flaws. There was no time for browsing fashion magazines when there were essays to write or levels to beat. Of course she wanted to, and of course she always meant to, but Lewinsky meant to dry clean the dress and The Beatles meant to copy write their work. Soon, she was twenty five, and she was sitting in a town café, running her fingers around the rim of her hot cocoa mug, while scanning the local classifieds for job openings and garage sales.
As her eyes were passing over an advertisement for some envelope stuffing work opportunity, a young man appeared in her peripheral. She immediately turned to look at him where he stood dressed in a crisp white dress shirt at the edge of the table. While Mary’s aforementioned questionable taste didn’t help her much any when it came to distinguishing handsome from homely, she didn’t have any problem pegging him as a prince from the moment he asked, “Is anyone sitting here?” Even the way he motioned toward the empty booth across from her was charming.
Now, Mary wasn’t greedy. She had never asked for much from her parents or her peers, nor had she ever set her own standards very high, thereby avoiding asking much from herself either. She simply didn’t want. She was happy with her own interests and her humbly acquired possessions. However, there had always been a hollow ache in her that no gifts of charity or good deed could fill. Mary wanted love.
Today, love would come in the form of a blonde graduate student named Henry. He removed his black backpack and bicycle helmet and took his seat across from her, and there ensued a two hour conversation filled with all the things only strangers would find interesting about one another. Never had Mary Pfleuger felt so special, so attended to, so worthy, and so very, very beautiful.
During an awkward break in the conversation, Henry began to stutter. If Mary’s heart had been speaking, it would have stuttered as well. Instead it began to tap dance against her sternum, which was just as disturbing. He began, “I was wondering . . .” For the first time in her life, Mary wondered what she would wear on their date. “I mean . . . I don’t know if you . . .” She wanted to run to the drugstore for barrettes and cosmetics. She finally had a reason to blossom. “I’m sorry if this is weird for you,” Henry blushed, but Mary just sat still, her smile exposing her gray-yellow teeth. “I was hoping you . . .”
And then, he said it.
“Have you ever read the book of Mormon?”