By Marie Claire published
Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In December, we're reading Denise Williams's The Fastest Way to Fall, a story about a journalist named Britta who falls for the CEO-slash-trainer of a fitness app while working with him for a story. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate in our virtual book club here. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
I hustled down the hall, late and waterlogged. It would rain today of all days.
With a graceless slip on the slick tile of the conference room, I hit the floor with a surprised cry, and my umbrella sprayed water into the air. My skirt rode up my thighs as the box of donuts I’d carried skidded across the polished wood floor, coming to rest by my boss’s Louboutins. Around me, conversation stopped, and I lingered in a cocoon of awkward silence.
Normally, the box was empty and stuffed in the trash before our boss arrived, already full from her kale smoothie or whatever Paleo-adjacent, keto-friendly, sugar-free organic breakfast food was trending. Everyone would enjoy the treat, and I’d maintain my status as popular and much-adored coworker, but the rain had other plans for my reputation and dignity that morning. Maricela’s manicured fingers slipped under the table to pick up the pink box.
“Britta, you made it.” Claire Morales’s voice broke the silence, and a chuckle went around the conference table. She sat back in smug satisfaction.
That’s what I told myself, anyway. From my spot on the floor next to my dripping umbrella, I couldn’t see anything except her impossibly high heels. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how good their traction was and if she might have her own run-in with the slippery floor.
“I like to make an entrance,” I mumbled, trying to stand without flashing anyone. Helen, the instructor for the over-sixty hip-hop dance class I’d accidentally joined at the local gym, would say, “If you got it, flaunt it,” which I tended to agree with. However, I doubted I needed to flaunt my cute underwear for the entire staff of Best Life, the millennial-focused lifestyle website where I’d worked as an editorial assistant for four years.
“Britta, are you okay?” Maricela Dominguez-Van Eiken looked the part of someone who ran a lifestyle empire. Straight posture, dark hair curled and cascading, a perfectly organized planner settled perpendicular to the newest iPhone and a rose gold water bottle. She’d built Best Life from the ground and turned it into a lucrative, trendsetting company designed to help people live well. Kale smoothies aside, she had impeccable taste and just seemed to have her life together. What’s that like?
I rubbed my knee and rotated the wrist I’d landed on, catching Claire’s smirk from across the room. “I’m okay.” Just a little mortified. “Sorry I’m late.”
She nodded and passed the box of donuts to the person on her left. It began a slow rotation around the room. Pair after pair of hungry eyes lingered on the treats as my colleagues waved their hands to pass. No one would take one after she demurred.
“It’s the third Friday of the month.” She tapped her index finger to her collar—her impress me gesture. Each month, Maricela sought new ideas from the entire team. After four years, I needed to stand out. I was a good writer, but I’d never gotten the chance to flex those skills for Best Life. I wondered if I might be able to contribute more to the world than background research on face creams or the inside scoop on whether escape rooms were over and what the next big trend would be.
“I have an idea.” With one finger raised, I chimed in. All eyes, once again, landed on me. “FitMi Fitness is a new app that’s been gaining popularity and is supposed to be incredibly body positive. Unlike other apps that focus just on tracking weight loss and counting calories, this one has real people serving as coaches, and the experience is very individualized.” I kept an eye on my boss, who loved the intentional marriages of technology and human interaction. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a secret “tech+people” tattoo somewhere on her body. “What if I join and document my journey? I’d talk about the app, but also everything I’m going through.”
I didn’t have to look around the room to know I was the only one who’d be described as plus-size. If she liked the idea, I was the one person who could write it. I’d learned early in life I was supposed to be ashamed of what my mom called my “extra fluff” and my sister called my “cushion for the pushin’.” It wasn’t until I got to college that I accepted I was fun, smart, and...fat, and that last one wasn’t the only thing that defined me. When I found FitMi, my wheels started turning with this idea. I was positive the unique perspective I could bring, plus the human and technology integration, was a sure winner.
Maricela was nodding again but had moved her finger from her collarbone to tap her chin.
Shit, she hates it.
“Thank you, Britta. I’d like to see something more original than a weight loss piece, though. I’d want a stronger connection to wellness with there being so much body-shaming in the world already. But bring us the next idea.” She called on someone else, and I squelched the urge to sink into my chair and hide. It wasn’t the first time I’d had an idea shot down—everyone did—but I’d been positive this one would be the bump I needed to earn a place on the staff as a feature writer. Maricela had already moved on when I thought of counterpoints to her concerns, namely that I didn’t want to lose weight through the program. I glanced across the table. Claire had made no secret of her goals, and with one feature writer position available, we’d both been trying to stand out. Hopefully, she didn’t have some great idea to pitch.
Claire caught my eye, her expression pensive before she tapped at something on her phone, and I turned my attention back to the discussion about homemade mud masks and trending scents.
After graduating from college, I’d hunted for jobs, desperate to prove to my family that my English and journalism double major wasn’t a one-way ticket to unemployment. I was confident I’d find a job where I could write stirring pieces that would change minds and hearts. I was wrong, and I jumped at the editorial assistant position at Best Life. Four years later, I’d learned not to roll my eyes during meetings. Though we generated a lot of helpful and insightful content, my heart wasn’t always in it. Some days, it felt like I’d veered so far from my original plans of being a writer, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back.
“Great idea. Put together a plan for road testing the masks, and let’s get it up for part of the Valentine’s Day Alone series. Britta can assist.” I’d zoned out, but a senior staff member flashed me a big smile. I’d have to figure out what I’d missed later.
“Anything else?” Maricela looked around the table and paused at Claire’s raised hand.
“I have one,” she said, her voice even and annoyingly casual. “It’s a different angle on Britta’s idea. There is another app that is just starting to add coaches. I could join that one while Britta joins FitMi, and we’d do the project together but broaden the scope to focus not on changing bodies but on the entire fitness experience.”
I looked to Maricela. Please let her finger be traveling to her chin. No such luck. It was still tapping at her collarbone. She was interested in Claire’s spin. “What sets this second app apart? How would dual participation improve upon the idea?”
Claire’s shoulders squared. “The app is a lot like the others out there, but they take a different approach. It’s called HottrYou. Their philosophy is about owning hotness throughout the process.”
Our boss’s finger drifted toward her chin as her lips pursed. “This is an interesting take, but I don’t love the visual of a petite woman writing about being hot and a plus-size woman writing about being fit.”
A hundred responses flew through my head, all landing somewhere between tears and declaring I would write about being hot, too. Luckily, my rival spoke before I did, and with a more measured tone than I’d planned.
“On the surface, I agree. However, there’s a unique take here. Or rather, a very common take. We all have relationships with our bodies, don’t we?” She glanced around the room, where most people were nodding. “And I’m comfortable writing about it.”
I nodded and leaned forward, resting my arms on the conference table. “And I love seeing women who are big and happy with their bodies. I love reading stories about people deciding to make a change and losing a bunch of weight. Both can be inspirational, but neither is my story. Fat people can be interested in exercise and fitness without it meaning they don’t like themselves. I think I could tell that story, and I think it would land with our audience. Imagine a series focused on a fitness and nutrition experience where the goal isn’t thinness or weight at all.”
Maricela glanced at her notes, finger hovering between her chin and collarbone.
Claire joined me again, our impromptu tag-team approach seeming to work. “The project would be about relationship with one’s body. And, if the apps are focused only on looks or only on weight loss or fall short on their promises, we’ll point it out, so readers know. I think it’s a win-win.”
Maricela glanced down at her tablet, and after a few taps and swipes, she smiled. “Okay, put together a plan. Let’s try it.”
As we moved on with the agenda, Claire eyed me coolly, clearly conflicted about the idea of sharing the spotlight but also aware this could be the way one of us found ourselves on the writing staff. We’d been in competition since we started, both eager to do well and stand out, and both ready to move up at Best Life.
She was a talented writer, and when she spoke about her body, she sounded genuine. I swallowed, realizing the extent to which I’d have to step it up and make myself vulnerable. Despite my impassioned plea and how much I loved the dance class with Helen and the other women, exercising wasn’t my passion. I assumed I’d have to eat better and hit the gym for a few months to do this project, but I wasn’t wanting or expecting something paradigm altering to happen. Still, if I got it right, it would be big for my career, and I could fake passion long enough to make the project work. Nothing was going to get in the way of success with this assignment and earning that spot as a feature writer. In that spirit, I flashed a wide grin at Claire.
Excerpted from The Fastest Way to Fall by Denise Williams, Copyright © 2021 by Denise Williams. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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