by Swordfish

"You eat as much as a sparrow," her father said.

        Callie groaned inwardly.  Criticism again.  Even though shed left home six years ago she still felt under bombardment whenever she came up from London for a weekend visit.  Nothing much seemed to have changed since her teenage years.  Her clothes were at fault.  Wearing jeans was not feminine.  Her shoes were not feminine, nor was her leather jacket.  For Callie these were ordinary metropolitan fashions, which everyone her age was wearing.  For her parents in Durham, in the north-east of England, you could tell they were 'not quite right', as her mother used to say. 

        Their remarks weren't meant to needle, but they did.  How was her social life? "Oh leave me alone," Callie thought.  She wasn't going to tell them it was a mess, that she felt too shy and unsure of herself and other people to strike out successfully and make firm friends.  As for a love life, forget it.  There was the remains of a relationship with Steve, but he was still up here in the north.  Down in London, where she worked, fairly unhappily, as a publicity assistant for a publishing company, there was plenty of social contact, young adults like her in their mid 20s, pleasant to talk to briefly perhaps.  But to pursue anything more, or take up some of the casual offers that came her way:  no, she just didn't have the confidence.

        Eat like a sparrow?  She knew she did, and she knew the reason why.    Shed had a difficult adolescence.  Coming to terms with her growing body was hard enough, but her fathers comments had always made things worse. Perhaps they weren't really meant as criticisms, but Callie had taken them as such.  "Your breasts are getting so big," he would say bluntly;  or "Watch out for that puppy fat!"  Growing up, Callie had no more puppy fat than any other girl enduring puberty, but she had always felt she was being made to feel it was her personal problem, and her fault.  Her breasts did develop rapidly, it was true, and even now, when any puppy fat had long since been stripped away, they remained the one prominent feature of her slender body.  

        Her way of survival, of approaching the perfection that she thought her father wanted, was food control.  In London she felt proud of herself for surviving on next to nothing:  no breakfast to speak of, no lunch at all, something simple at night.  She had a sweet tooth, but she kept it firmly capped:  if she had an ice cream, she would starve herself for two days afterwards, so the calories wouldn't turn to fat and show on her hips, or wherever the horrid stuff would appear. That's what food was, calories. It wasn't pleasure, she kept telling herself, it wasn't fuel for the body. Food meant calories, and calories meant danger.   Five foot seven inches tall, long auburn hair, pretty, willowy, she weighed no more than 115 pounds, and wanted to keep it that way.  Of course she ate like a sparrow. She had to for her fragile self-esteem.  Her father had seen to that long ago. 

        Sunday dinner done, her parents drove her to the station.  They said their goodbyes. Her father gave her a brief hug.  Her mother likewise.  "Have a snack on the train," she said, "you look tired."  Callie groaned again, and hurried off, out of their clutches, back to her own life, such as it was.   Nothing she did seemed to satisfy her parents.   Truth to tell, nothing she did satisfied herself either, whether at work or at play.   She was already halfway through her 20s and felt she had not yet found herself.

        The train was crowded, the long journey south boring.  Callie flipped idly through a magazine.  Nondescript scenery.  Fading light.  No interesting passengers, male or female, to glance at secretly;  certainly no-one to talk to.  An attendant came down the aisle with the food trolley.  Callie toyed with having a coffee, but decided not to.  Just as the attendant passed her, she suddenly changed her mind. "Black coffee please. And two chocolate muffins".

        She was astonished she had said that.  Sheer impulse.  She wasn't hungry.  She didn't need them.  It was an act of defiance.  Eat like a sparrow, did she?  For a minute or two, and no more, she was going to eat like a pig.  She had almost forgotten what chocolate muffins tasted like. They were good.  They were very good.  And quickly gone.  Nothing left but crumbs, which she brushed off the top of her tight jeans, a snug fit round her narrow waist.  Her stomach now felt a little full: a strange sensation.  She closed her eyes, and drifted off.  The next thing she knew, people were standing up, gathering together their belongings, the London hubbub a minute or two away.

        At first London life continued as normal.  It was spring.  Once again she ate like a sparrow;  certainly no chocolate muffins -- that bit of madness had definitely been a one-off.   But something new had stirred inside her during her visit back home, a desire to assert herself, and not be so governed by what others seemed to expect her to be.  Shed been shy and passive for too long, she decided.  She was 26.  Time for the real Callie to emerge.

        But who was the real Callie?  To find out, she began to make more of an effort to push herself out there socially, in pubs and clubs after work.  There were real difficulties here, real contradictions too.  She was curious about people and places;  she was also fearful.   In the clothing she wore she liked to emphasize her breasts, yet she felt uncomfortable when men responded by coming on strong.  With a few drinks inside her, unsupported by food, she could easily fall into idle chat that could lead her to places she didn't really want to go.  Women friends were beginning to feel safer than men.  There was Claire.  There was Frankie, a lesbian, who took her to a few gay bars in the interests of general education.   It felt good to explore, however timidly.  

        Her food regime continued unchanged.  A very modest breakfast -- a piece of toast or two.  No lunch at all.  A meal at night. Since she was often drinking in town in the evening -- several pints of lager usually, accompanied by crisps and twiglets -- the meals got pushed back later and later, after she got home.  Often they were takeaway pizzas, or some other fast food.  There was no time for anything else:  she was always tired by then, almost ready to go to bed as soon as the last mouthful was done.  

        At the clubs and pubs, men continued to be an attraction and a curse.  She liked their flattery;  she hated their heavy suggestive comments.  What could she do, she began to think to herself, to make herself less of an attraction to the wrong sort of guy, the guy who just wanted to be a man, date her, make love, and leave?   Her breasts she couldn't do much with;   whatever bra she wore they stood out, round and firm.  But her long hair, that could be cut.  And so it was, cut short, parted in the middle.  Stylish, cute, she thought, just the thing for the better class of guy.

        With her new haircut there was a new spring to Callie's step.  By July she had markedly grown in confidence.  Socializing was getting much easier;  she noticed herself engaging in conversation more, without quite so much fear.   That pleased her.  But she was horrified by another new development.  She found that for the first time in years she had gained a little weight, over the weeks acquiring just enough fat on her tummy for her fingers to press and squeeze.   Shed noticed some of her jeans feeling extra snug round the waist.   At first she had thought they had simply shrunk, but when she examined herself in her bathroom the small layer of soft flesh round her middle was unmistakable, and the bathroom scales told their own story.  119 pounds, eight stone twelve.  She had put on four pounds.   

        How could this be so?  She was eating as little as ever, she thought:   no indulgences, no chocolate muffins, or ice cream, even though it was a hot summer.  But then she started to make connections.  The increased drinking in the evening.  Lots of calories there.  The meals eaten late:  more calories that she never properly worked off.  Thank God no-one seemed to have noticed her little gain.  Shed have to diet immediately and cut down on her drinking.  No, better than that:  shed have to stop eating and drink only water.  This fat on her tummy was so horrible!  After all, she's the girl who eats like a sparrow.  Sparrows aren't fat.

        On the other hand, now that she was feeling easier about the social whirl, she didn't really want to spend her evenings nursing a glass of Perrier.  That wasn't cool.  So she stuck to lager, cutting down slightly on the amount.  The takeaway pizzas and other late night fast foods continued.  Somehow she felt hungrier these days than shed felt before.  After four more weeks, she thought she spotted a little more fat on her tummy, and a new feeling of tightness in her bra.  Nervously she stood on the scales. 122 pounds.  Shed put on another three pounds!

        "Oh no," she cried to herself, "this is so terrible!  Ill have a spare tire before long." 

        But then she caught herself in her thoughts.  Wasn't this a reflex action from the old Callie she was trying to escape from, with her low self-esteem and obsession with her appearance?   Being so thin hadn't made her happy, she told herself.  In being a food and body fascist she was just robbing herself of natural pleasures, and all for what?  These questions never reached any conclusions;  they simply lay somewhere in her mind while she continued her clubbing and late night meals.  Shed keep a watch on her weight, she decided, but at the moment she didn't feel like sensible drinking and eating:  she was having too much fun spreading her wings.

        Another thought lay somewhere in Callie's head.  Since shed been bothered by some mens' unwanted attentions, perhaps she might have an easier time if she grew a little heavier and became in their eyes less alluring?  It was just a vague, almost subconscious thought.  Just the thing to sustain her at points in the evenings when she reached for a third pint of lager, or at times during the day when instead of avoiding food, as she would have done previously, she found herself wanting to eat, and sometimes eating a lot.

        As the summer went by Callie continued to relax her vigilance over her food intake.  She started to have muffins at breakfast, occasionally chocolate ones.  She began to have a lunchtime snack;  and an afternoon snack.  Sometimes ice cream.  All the time she could feel her body slowly filling out and getting rounder.  Her clothing was beginning to feel tight, especially her jeans and blouses.  A little pot belly was starting, and the flesh round her waist now formed a roll whenever she sat down.   It was as though shed previously been a deflated balloon and someone was now beginning, quietly and lovingly, to pump her up.  

        Sitting in bed, or in the bath, she would sometimes finger her tummy and squeeze the small love handles on her side, feeling the fat moving, soft and gentle.  Compared to other women walking the streets, she had gained a comparatively minor amount, she knew.  But it felt a big change to move from having a body taut and hard, in places even concave, to one that felt smooth and soft to the touch.  It was strange:  almost as though she had magically acquired someone else's body, someone fatter. 

        It was also, she began to realize, not exactly unpleasant.  She also began to appreciate another novel sensation, the feeling of fullness in her stomach once a big meal was done.   Without thinking, her hands would rest on the fat at the front of her tummy, stretched with the new food.   It felt very satisfying, maternal somehow, as though there were a baby inside which she needed to love and nurture.  My God, she thought, was the maternal instinct starting?

        As someone who had skirted anorexia, Callie couldn't help  retaining some guilt feelings about gaining the weight she had - not so much about the amount itself, but about feeling relaxed about it. Surely she should be tormenting herself, crouching over the toilet bowl every night vomiting the food up?  But she wasn't.  She clung to the thought that no-one still appeared to have noticed her extra pounds.  They were a private matter, she mused,  between herself, her body, and her bathroom scales. 

        Here she was deluding herself -- something Callie was quite good at.  Her flat mate Helen certainly made the connection between the extra food Callie was now eating and the little bulge on her tummy.  Even more noticeable to Helen was the signs of filling out in her face, a face more exposed to scrutiny since it lost its frame of long hair.  Her cheeks were fuller than before;  overall there was a new softness, a slight blurring of its outlines. "What happened to watching your weight?" she said one morning as Callie started in on a muffin.

        "Oh, is it starting to show?", Callie said, nervous, but pleased to find herself only mildly embarrassed. "I have put on a few pounds, I know."

        That evening, she went straight after work to the Fox and Grape pub to meet her friend Claire.  They hadn't seen each other for several weeks. Callie got the drinks, then leaned over Claire to hang up her blue denim jacket on a clothes hook nearby.  Her tee-shirt, hanging tight around the breasts, rode up several inches, revealing a midriff soft with fat, the navel sunk a little way inside.  Claire, always eagle-eyed, spotted this. She also saw the  roll that formed when Callie sat down, her belt buckle digging in to the tiny bulge of exposed flesh between her tee-shirt and jeans. 

        "Callie, you're getting a little spare tire!"  As she said this she noticed for the first time the new roundness in her friends face.    "I do believe you're  putting on weight!"  There was amazement in her voice.

        "Guilty," said Callie, smiling with a touch of unease.   "I guess all this drinking and the late-night pizzas have had some effect.  The odd thing is that I always thought Id be horrified if I gained weight, but now that I actually have I don't mind so much."

        "Maybe it suits you.  You look very well, anyway."

        Callie relaxed into her lager.  OK.  She had gained weight.  People had noticed.  And the sky hadn't collapsed!  That felt wonderful.  Maybe she had really turned the corner, shaken off her old inhibitions, and was starting to be herself at last.   The talk moved on to other things.  It was a good night of chat. 

        Back home, she felt hungrier than usual.  She had collected a large deep-pan pizza on the way, which she hadn't intended to eat all of.  Helen might have wanted some.  Or she could have saved some for tomorrow.  But something drove her to consume it all, along with a bowl of ice-cream. Lying in bed shortly afterwards, she rubbed her stomach, full and hard with the extra food, and felt happy, replete.

        Before sleep came thoughts and feelings danced around her head. What was happening to her?  Was she consciously trying to put on weight? She didn't think so, though she must realize if she thought about it that the calories she was notching up would have that effect.  Claire had asked her how much shed gained:  Callie said she didn't know exactly -- it had been seven pounds a month ago, she said, but shed probably gained a bit more since then.  Its not that shed been avoiding the scales, it was just that her exact weight didn't seem that important.  She would weigh herself in the morning, she decided;  curiosity now demanded it.

        Here perhaps was the nub of things.  Maybe at some level she was trying to fatten herself up.  The feeling she was conscious of most, though, was a desire to be herself, to enjoy herself and banish old repressions. especially the demon inside that had made her almost anorexic.  She was giving in to her natural appetite;  some extra weight was the result.  It was a side-effect, really, not a goal.  And then there was the man question.  If her women friends had started to notice that she was gaining a bit, then men maybe had too. She hadn't had any comments, though, or noticed any drop in their attentions, wanted or unwanted.  How much weight would it take to repel their invasive gaze? Callie didn't know and by now was far too sleepy to care.

        In the morning when she got up, she noticed how her breasts were pressing tight against her night dress.  They must be getting bigger, she thought;  that would tie in with the constricted feeling shed recently been getting in her bras.  Then she remembered.  The bathroom scales!

        The needle swung up and down, resting finally at 126 pounds. Callie blinked with awe.  Nine stone exactly.  Her seven pound gain had become eleven. Much more than she thought.  Then she stroked her breasts, hanging full and firm, felt the widening hips and the  swell of fat on her tummy, and thought "Well, it figures."  No feelings of guilt.  No cries of horror.  In fact, she realized, she felt slightly aroused at the feel of her body's new flesh rubbing against the night dresss silk.  It was a completely new sensation.

        Work kept her occupied for the rest of the summer.  It was a busy time at her publishers, with the release of lots of autumn books to prepare for.   There were press releases to write, authors to shepherd, interviews to arrange.  Before Callie had sometimes felt swamped by the job, crippled by her shyness and relative inexperience.  Now she felt more on top of things.  Busy, though.  So busy.  She was working into the evenings now, and had much less time for socializing, drinking, food snacking, and the other excitements of the summer.   

        She seemed to have reached a plateau with her weight.  Nothing extra was gained, she felt.  Perhaps a pound or two had been lost.  Either way, it was not an issue.  Though under great pressure at work she felt in good spirits, and on hot days wore tank tops that revealed her soft midriff.  At the publication party for a book on David Bowie that the company had high hopes for there was unusually copious food and drink. Callie wore some red silk pants that had always been a bit tight, but now were stretched to their limit, clinging fast to her pot belly and the new curves of her bottom.  She fell upon the food with glee -- she hadn't had time to eat much that day.  As she scooped three spicy sausages and some enchiladas onto her plate, she overheard one male colleague muttering, "Callie's tucking into her food these days!"  Instinctively she reached for a fourth sausage. 

        With the pre-autumn rush over, it was time for her holiday.  She and Claire had planned it for a month.  Ten days on the Greek island of Lesbos.  Frankie, her gay friend, thought the choice of place hilarious. "Don't drink the water," she teased, "or else you'll come back a lesbian"" "In your dreams," said Callie. 

        She was glad to get away from the London hurly-burly.  Quiet and quiet and relaxation was what she wanted.  Claire talked of swimming and walking, but even those seemed too strenuous for Callie:  shed be happy sitting on the beach, reading a book, or sketching in a pad -- something she used to do at college but now seemed to have no time for.   Still, shed packed her swimsuit, though she thought it might be a little too tight after the weight shed put on over the summer.  

        The hotel was fancier than they had expected.  The rooms were clean, with TV and minibar.  There was a bar and disco, a restaurant, and an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet, something Callie had never experienced before.  "Its a good job I've started eating breakfast," she said.  On the first morning, Callie loaded up her tray with cereal, waffles, doughnuts and a milkshake.  "Callie, you cant possibly eat or want all that!"  said Claire, who still ate like a sparrow. 

        "But its free!  And besides, I'm on holiday."

        She certainly was, and the holiday spirit had got to her.   During the day she lazed around on the beach, reading, sun-bathing, sleeping;  at night, lots of drink and food.  In between meals, ice cream and Greek desserts -- Callie's sweet tooth loved those.  For so long she had beaten herself up mentally over the consequences of giving in to the food she liked, ice cream and pastries.   Now she felt such freedom, eating what she wanted, when she wanted.   Claire was amazed at Callie's appetite, but for the time kept her thoughts to herself.

        As the holiday drew to a close, the weather turned hotter still. They lay on the beach, alternating between sun and shade, both in bikinis. Once again, Claire was struck by the ring of fat round Callie's middle, now much bigger and deeper than before.  "Girl, you're really filling out!"

        "I know.  I've been gaining weight this summer."

        "You've been gaining weight this week!"  Claire looked at curve of her belly, her thickening thighs, her heavy breasts, and the second chin that formed whenever she lowered her head.

        "I guess I have.  I have been eating a lot.  Much more than you. I can diet if I want when we get back."

        "Its such a change for you, Callie.  You were always so thin, as thin as me.  I'm such a beanpole -- I probably last gained weight as a baby.  Don't you mind all this fat?"

        Callie prodded the flesh around her middle, the navel sunk in much deeper than before.   "Actually no.  Well, yes and no really.  The part of me that was an anorexic is horrified, I suppose.  But that me scarcely exists now, and there's another me that's so relieved. To be able to eat and not feel guilty, that's so great.  And I'm beginning to like my new curves. Its not as though I'm fat, is it?  I'm just a bit more rounded than I was. Like her --" . 

        Callie pointed to a young waitress at a beach-side cafe whom shed kept on noticing during the week as she delivered drinks with a sexy swagger, big tummy bulge brazenly bared, firm round arms, luscious breasts, someone glorying in her plumpening form.  Callie couldn't take her eyes off her.

        "Well its your body," Claire said.

        "Yes it is.  Can we get some ice cream?" 

        That was the last time the two talked about it.

         When she got home from Greece, Callie didn't need the scales to know that her weight had seriously shot up.  Before she could still button up the jeans she traveled in.  Now her belly was so prominent that she had to leave them loose at the top, covered up with her blouse.  Her bottom had spread.  Her bra felt much more constricted too, and she noticed her ribcage had finally vanished under a layer of fat that formed little rolls where the sides of the bra dug into her body.  The pointer on the scales read 140 pounds, ten stone.  In ten days she had gained fourteen pounds. 

        In her first week back she bought two pairs of jeans in a larger size, and two bigger bras:  she might have bought more if she had more money.  The new jeans camouflaged some of her weight gain, but even the blindest of friends and colleagues were starting to notice that Callie was now no longer thin;  indeed, she was starting to get just a little bit chubby. 

        At work Callie made light of things.  "I know I've put on a few pounds!" she said airily.  But the thought of dieting never entered her head.  She didn't even take it seriously when she mentioned it to Claire in Greece:  it was just something to deflect the beanpoles disapproval.   In the month after she came back from holiday she returned to her new food habits;  enough for her to slowly gain a few more pounds.  

        The change was very apparent to Steve, her old boyfriend from up north, who came down for a weekend during November.  In one way she looked the same;  she was still Callie.  But she was also different.  She was 25 pounds heavier.

        "I'm not saying this to be rude, but you've put on some weight!" he said, not unappreciatively, almost as soon as they met.

        "Yes I've fattened up a bit this year.  I hope you don't mind."

        "You look really good.  Different, but good.  My God, you've got a tummy too!  It used to be so flat."

        The talk moved on to other topics, but Callie's chubbier look still hovered in Steve's mind.  When her small double chin appeared, he cried out involuntarily "My God, you're so beautiful!" 

        Callie smiled.  Their sexual relationship was over, she knew;  but it was still good to get his approval as a friend.   Steve was not one of the men she wanted to scare off.  He could be demanding, but he was basically kind, and certainly fun.  The problems Callie had experienced in the past were problems of commitment.  Steve had wanted things to go further than she did.  Luckily her move to London had intervened.  It was hard having sex long-distance.

        In fact the relationship was not over.  Something within Steve stirred that weekend.   Callie too found herself attracted to the possibility of a session in bed.  She had not had sex for some months, certainly not since shed been gaining weight.  In the back of the mind she was wondering how it would feel for her, and what it would feel like for her partner, with these extra pounds on her body. 

        As Callie removed her clothes, Steve looked in awe.  A layer of fat seemed to cover every limb, every part of her.  Round her tummy the fat piled into a swelling curve, the navel almost lost to sight deep in the new flesh.  Her breasts.  Her hips.  Everything was bigger and softer than Steve remembered.  Her ribcage had vanished.  Even the shoulder bones once as prominent as a coat hanger were starting to get upholstered.

        In bed, Steve tenderly fingered her belly.  But it was not only Steve that felt aroused by her new physique.  Callie herself experienced a new sensuous thrill as her fattened body was stroked, squeezed, rubbed, and finally, in ecstasy, penetrated. 

        Lovemaking over, Steve wanted his sexual high to continue.  Could you wear some tight clothes? he asked, amazed at himself. 

        "You are perverse," Callie said.  But she didn't decline.  She fetched out some black jeans she thought she might still fit into, maneuvering them gingerly over her hips and bottom, buttoning them up as far as the fat on her tummy would allow.  The top two buttons she had to leave undone.  As she moved she could feel the pressure of her flesh bearing down on her jeans as never before.  Would she be able to sit down wearing these?  Next came a tee-shirt, which once hung down just beyond her waist but now rode up tightly with her enlarged breasts, leaving the way clear for her midriff roll and love handles to hang over her jeans. 

        She felt very constricted.  She felt good.  She felt sexy.  And Steve was pleased.  But not satisfied.  He had another request.

         "Can I" -- he hesitated -- "watch you eat?"

        "You've seen me eat, its nothing exciting.  We ate together last night."

        "But now it would mean more."

        She groaned, but again she didn't decline.  She went to the fridge where a two liter carton of chocolate chip ice cream sat in permanent residence.   She scooped out four balls, gave Steve an exasperated glance, sat down -- feeling her belly pushing hard against her jeans --  and ate, playfully lingering over each mouthful, licking every speck from the spoon, murmuring as though in ecstasy "Oh, that's so gooood!".  Afterwards, provocatively, she patted her stomach. 

        "Thank you," sighed Steve.

        "That's alright.  I was hungry."                 The weekend was over.  Steve went back up north, with a new admiration for Callie.  When he hugged her goodbye, he impulsively clutched her waist, feeling the fat now wrapped around it and hoping that the next time he visited the love handles would be bigger still. "Id never have taken you for a plumper!" he said.  Callie looked quizzical, but smiled.

        Callie returned to work on Monday with a mixed bag of feelings. She was somewhat surprised by Steve's reaction.  For him to savor her extra weight as he did was a little perverse, she thought.  It certainly ran counter to her vague notion that by looking heavier she would actually deter mens' attentions.   And what was this plumper business?  She looked up the word in her dictionary.  It wasn't there.  "I guess I know even less about the male sex than I thought," she sighed.

        But she was more surprised by her own reactions.  To be so excited by the softness of her own body, its new curves, the feeling of filling her clothes almost to bursting:  that was something she had never expected. 

        The visit also started her worrying about Christmas and the impending visit back home.  Her parents had not seen her for over six months:  they would notice that shed gained weight just as much as Steve, though Callie didn't expect the same adoring reaction.  She tried to imagine them saying "Can I watch you eat?" That would really be perverse!  All the past criticisms of her appearance that made a misery of her adolescence came flooding back.  Now that she seemed to have shaken off her anorexia and learned to accept gaining weight, the last thing she wanted was old criticisms hurled in her face.                 All in all it was time to take stock.   Getting ready for bed, she stood naked in the bathroom and for the first time since she returned from Greece mounted the scales.  The needle swung up and down, settling at 144 lbs, ten stone four.  Shed imagined her weight was coasting along unchanged, since shed avoided blow-out meals since her holiday and was getting more exercising walking in London than she ever did in Greece.  But shed still managed to add another four pounds over eight weeks:  testament, she supposed, to the new appetite she had for the calorie-rich food she spurned in the past, plus the continued night-time alcohol.  All told this year, in six or seven months of increased consumption, she had gained almost thirty pounds.  

         She looked at herself in the mirror.  So was she now fat?  No. She was a lot rounder.  Chubby, really -- she saw for the first time how much fuller shed grown in the face -- but not to her eyes fat.  She held her tummy in her hands, feeling its softness, caressing its sensuous curve that now rose upwards from her crotch like an upturned bell.   It was this bulge at her waist that people seemed to notice most;  it was this bulge that made so many of her pants hard to fit into.  But far from being a nuisance, her new tummy was something to take care of, to feed with more food, not to starve.   She noticed the new roundness of her arms, and noticed for the first time how even her hands seemed fleshier, with new crease marks around her wrists.  She looked at her profile, the breasts that once were almost her only curves now balanced by the belly in the front and the widened butt behind.  Wasn't this a more natural shape than the stick insect shed been for so long? 

        Unconsciously perhaps during the week she wore clothes that emphasized rather than hid her new pounds.  She wore tight jeans that accentuated the roundness of her bottom and tummy.  She wore a top that exposed the midriff.   She wore a black suede jacket that used to be buttoned up but now hung open, thrust outward along with her breasts.  And as she went from club to club, pub to pub, she realized she liked it when people -- these people, not her parents -- noticed her new physique.

        "Callie," said her gay friend Frankie in the ladies room, "you're so much --", and then paused, afraid of being blunt and hurting feelings.

        "Fatter.  I know, I've put on weight.  I'm happy about it."

        "You look good.  You looked good thin too.  But you look healthier now, more relaxed, little tummy and all."

        "Thanks."                  Why shouldn't she be relaxed if people were as non-critical and supportive as that?   Shed even had her doctors approval when she went to a renew a prescription.   Her parents and relatives, now:  that was going to be different.  With each day she came to dread her Christmas home visit more.  She played over in her mind all the past wounding comments that sapped her self-confidence as an adolescent and helped drive her into near-anorexia.   Nothing seemed right in the eyes of her father.   Above all her weight.  Any ounce of puppy fat had been scrutinized.  And here she was about to roll up, rounded out not with puppy fat but the real thing -- fat fat, the product of mature eating, not the chemistry of adolescence.

        At breakfast time one day, her flatmate Helen found her cradling a cup of coffee.

        "You're not having anything to eat?"  She had grown used to Callie starting the day with thick slices of bread, sometimes a muffin.  Now there was no plate, no bread, just as it used to be.  "Are you dieting?"

        "No, but maybe yes.  Oh I don't know.  I'm confused.  I'm so worried about going back home and getting criticized for gaining weight.  My friends here have been great, but my parents can needle so much, especially my dad."

        Helen thought for a moment.  She didn't want her friend to get back on the anorexics treadmill, and she knew Callie didn't either.

        "Prepare them in some way.  Tell them you've put weight on, and tell them you're happy about it.  Tell them you don't want any carping comments. Tell them to get lost!"

        "Sometimes I wish they would."

        "Send them a photo.  Do anything so that it wont come as a surprise.  That's what Id do".

        Callie looked at Helens spindly body, 105 lbs or so with barely a curve anywhere.  Fat chance of you gaining, she thought.  But then up until recently people would have said the same thing about her, yet here she was, voluminous, as it seemed to her right now, ready to burst out of her clothes.  A little more gloom descended, and she went off to work.

        She didn't eat much that day.  She didn't eat much the next day.  At times she felt herself feeling a little giddy through lack of fuel.   She wasn't consciously trying to diet, but she was certainly preoccupied with her problem.   But by the end of the third day she could hold off no longer, and when she got home she prepared a mound of pasta and garlic bread, and dug in as though she hadn't eaten in weeks.

        Helen saw her wolf the plate down.  "You got through that like greased lightning!"

        "I was so hungry."  She looked in the fridges freezer.  "Damn it, were out of ice cream."

        "It looks like you've got back your appetite."

        Once again Helens words made her pause.  Christmas was now just a few days away, and if she ate with the relish shed shown tonight wouldn't she be giving her parents just the chance they needed to rub salt in her wounds, and make some cutting comment about gaining weight?    

        She decided she wouldn't play ball.  She would scarcely eat during her visit -- well not really, it was Christmas, after all, but she wouldn't indulge, she wouldn't have seconds, she wouldn't give them the twisted satisfaction of seeing her stuffing herself.  Callie thought this rather smart.  One up to her.  Of course she would still be carrying her extra pounds, most of them at any rate (she must have dropped a few recently, she thought), and she might still tell them in advance that shed been gaining, but it struck her as a good damage limitation exercise.

        Then another thought struck her. "If I'm going to starve up there for a few days, Id better stock up with food beforehand, otherwise Ill never survive."  The day before traveling she ate more than she had in ages:  pancakes at breakfast, doughnuts at eleven, lasagna at lunchtime, ice cream at four, a pack of chocolate chip cookies, and a crusty chicken pie at night.   By the end of the day her stomach was full to bursting and looked it. She lay in bed, feeling its heaviness as well as its fat, and feeling contented for the first time in weeks. 

        There was no time for feasting the next day, but she stocked up with snacks for the train journey.  After the intake of the last 24 hours, her jeans felt very tight.  On the train, as she brushed crumbs from her biscuits off her ballooning waist, she thought, "I should have warned them, I should have warned them.  Too late now. "  She fretted a bit more about the criticism to come, then tried to feel philosophical.  The train pulled in to Durham.  Callie was quaking.

        When she arrived home, her mother had just come in from work.  They hugged and kissed.  "Here it comes," thought Callie, "she must have felt how round I am." 

        "Are you hungry after the journey?  You look so well!  Dinner wont be long."

        This is not what Callie was expecting.

        "You may have noticed I've put on a bit of weight -"

        "Don't tell me you're dieting.  This isn't the season, Callie."

        "No, no.  I'm hungry enough -"

        "That's good.  There's lots to eat in the house."

        Her dads reaction was similar.  At supper he observed she looked happier and healthier than before.  "And you've got an appetite, I see." Was that a dig?  The tone  didn't suggest it.  "Yes, I've gained a few pounds," said Callie, with a touch of remorse in her voice.  No reprimand. No earthquake.  Just acceptance.  "Well I'm sure you can lose them if you want to."

        Callie's sigh of relief was almost audible.  She could enjoy Christmas.  She could enjoy eating.  She could put her fears away.  If she had conquered her old anorexic instincts, her parents seemed to have done some growing up too. 

        If her parents seemed to accept the change quietly, Callie's younger sister Sarah was more curious.  When Callie was taking a shower on Christmas morning, Sarah knocked on the door.  She had an urgent call.  Callie slipped out to let her in.   As she finished off soaping herself, Sarah's eyes roved up and down her fattened figure.

        "You have put on weight!"

        "Told you!"

        "How come?  Do you mind?"

        "Not really.  I noticed I was gaining during the summer and I suppose I decided to push things along and see if I could banish anorexia once and for all."  She sat on the baths edge, toweling herself.

        "Wow," said Sarah, "you've got a big roll of fat on your waist!"

        "I have put on 30 pounds.  The weights got to go somewhere."

        "Well, so long as you're happy.  Can I have the clothes you cant fit into anymore?"  Sarah was always the opportunist.

        There was a bathroom scale in the corner, Callie noticed, but she decided not to stand on them.  After Christmas would do.  She expected shed gained a little over the last few days -- she was eating a lot, one way and another, and taking little exercise - but it was of little account.   At her final meal with the family, she polished off the last remaining piece of Christmas cake, and rubbed her tummy.  "I'm stuffed!" she said with a smile. Her parents smiled too.

        Back in London, Callie enjoyed the rest of the holiday season, and continued indulging her appetite as January advanced.  It was a cold winter, and food was one way to keep warm.  During the day, she kept herself going with little snacks and hot chocolate with whipped cream; more comforting than coffee, she found.   When she finally stood on the scales, one day in February, the needle settled at 155 lbs, eleven stone one. 

        The needle didn't lie, and Callie knew it.  She had grown noticeably chunkier over the winter;  the weight she gained from Christmas on, added to the weight gained during her holiday in Greece, was enough to turn her from a thin girl pleasantly filling out to a beautiful chubby girl beginning to edge towards plumpness.  Her face was much fuller now;  her neck had thickened, with a jowlly double chin never far away;  she had lots of extra padding round her waist and hips, and her bottom stuck out provocatively.   When she ran up and downstairs, she could feel her some of her fat jiggling.  Some of the other girls at work had gained too over the winter;  it became quite a topic of conversation.  But Callie, they agreed, had put on the most. 

        The Fox and Grape, after work, was still her port of call, often with Claire.  Friday nights were always busy there, and on this Friday early in March the numbers seemed bigger than ever.  Some farewell party was under way, they realized.  Claire and Callie secured the last available table, squeezed into a corner, and did their usual chatting over events at work (Claire had just moved to a new job at an art gallery).  It was thirsty business, and their drinks -- lager for Callie, diet Coke for Claire -- had soon gone.  Time for some more.

        "Ill get these," Callie said.  But while they were talking, the pub had grown even more crowded, and their table seemed to have been pushed closer to the wall.  Callie stood up, but there was no room for her to maneuver herself round the table towards the bar.  Claire got up and, shoved in her chair, to make room.  Even then, with Callie's new pounds, it was difficult:  her big breasts pressed hard against Claire's chest as she squeezed slowly by, and she could feel her bottom scraping against the wall behind her.  For a moment she actually felt stuck. 

        "I'm getting too fat!" she said, freeing herself with a push and a smile.  It was the first time shed ever used the word fat about herself. Returning with the drinks was no picnic, either.  It required a delicate balancing act, holding the glasses while squeezing her way through,  her breasts, tummy and bottom rubbing against bodies that suddenly felt so much thinner than hers.  Once at the table, she raised the drinks high to stop them being knocked out of her hand.  Claire took them from her, her eyes catching one more time the bulge at Callie's waist, the fat now  solidified into a general swell curving down beautifully from below her breasts.   

        "Phew!" Callie said, back in her seat, finding just enough room to slip off her jacket.   Claire suddenly noticed how much rounder Callie's arms were, how her breasts seemed about ready to break out of her shirt. Her friend, she realized, had finally crossed that line that separates the girl of normal or healthy weight from the girl fast becoming fat, plump, chunky -- whatever word you chose.   Even after their holiday in Greece, Callie's weight could be considered reasonable in Claire's eyes for a woman of her height and build.  But now...   It was time to open the topic up.

        "You've gained weight this winter, Callie."

        "I know.  Every time I stand on the scales the needle seems to go up."

        "And you don't mind?  The pounds are really starting to show."

        "I suppose they are.  But I feel so much happier, Claire, cant you see that too?  Of course I've had my pangs of guilt and my worries.  My God, before Christmas I was terrified about what my parents would say. .  But I really think I've got over all that."

        "You're certainly more relaxed, Ill give you that.  But after being slim for so long, and working hard to keep it that way, do you really want a body plumped up with fat?"

        Callie thought for a few seconds, fingering the rim of her lager glass.  It was honesty time. "Yes," she said quietly, "I think I do."

        "No!" Claire cried.

        "I think so.  Why has my appetite increased so much, not without any forcing from me?   I think my body and my natural instincts have asserted themselves, after being kept in a kind of anorexic prison." 

        Callie suddenly realized she had better tread carefully.  Claire was still rake-thin herself, and Callie didn't mean to make personal comments about her.  "But its a really personal thing, Claire.  I never meant to gain weight."

        "You've been eating as though you have."

        "Well maybe once the pounds started coming, yes, I've been eating more deliberately than before.  Its an addictive thing, almost.  Not the food itself, though God knows I enjoy my ice cream.  But the fat, Claire. I know this must sound so strange to you.  But getting a little bit fatter makes you want to get fatter still.  Makes me, at any rate."

        "Are you kidding?"

        Callie leaned forward across the table.  The noise in the pub was getting impossible.  

        "OK, when I put it into words like that it sounds crazy.  But unconsciously I think I've recognized that its good for me to be this size.  What I'm really saying is that I might very well lose some weight.  I might very well gain some weight too.  But I know I wont ever get back to the weight I was at a year ago, and I don't want to.  I really don't want to. You should get fatter yourself, Claire.  Try it!"

        "Mm.  It would be an experience, certainly.  As long as you're happy, Callie, that's all I'm concerned about."

        "I am," Callie said, her chin sweetly doubling up as she leaned back in her seat, "I think I finally am."                 The evening left Callie with mixed feelings.  Happy?  Happier, certainly.  No doubt about that.  But the press of bodies -- male bodies mostly -- in the pub had brought home to her how unsatisfactory her love life was.  That vague notion of putting on weight to scare off men hadn't worked at all.  With Steve, her new pounds had obviously aroused him, and she hadn't felt burning disapproval in the glances of men as her more upholstered body emerged.  They were checking out her ass and her tits, she could tell, watching them steadily get bigger.   She didn't mind that particularly, as long as they kept their hands to themselves;  in fact, deep down, she was pleased they seemed to approve.  So much for her scare-off plan! 

        But she knew with increasing certainty that she didn't want their attentions for herself.  She had to face it.  Over the last year she had grown increasingly attracted, sexually attracted, to women.  At first she had thought she was simply checking out womanly figures while she was in the process of acquiring one herself;  she thought back to the waitress in Greece who she kept on following with her eyes.   She had fancied her, it was clear now.   Suddenly the world seemed full of young women she liked the look of, women often carrying a little more weight than the eat-like-a-sparrow type that she used to be.

        The following week, Claire suggested they met up in the Fox and Grape again.  Callie cried off, without any premeditation:  she had a headache, she said.  It wasn't so.  Fridays crush of bodies had depressed her.  Instead she found herself going alone to a chic lesbian bar, Chez Radclyffe, that shed visited before with her friend Frankie, currently out of town.   There was no male testosterone flying around.  It was usually quiet.  And the women were always interesting to watch.

         Callie sat quietly with her drink, absorbing the atmosphere.  One of the women, chunkily built, with short-cropped hair, came over and started talking.  More than talking.  Giving her the eye.  Her name was Deena, she said. 

        "Mines Callie" -- a little coyly.  Shed seen her before, thought her striking, but had put the thought to one side. 

        "I've seen you here often before.   I didn't pay much attention at first, you seemed just another twig girl, but I've really noticed you since you started putting on weight.  You've really blossomed!"

        "Yes, I'm not so thin now" -- a hint of remorse.  As she spoke, she felt in her mind the weight of her breasts, and the latest pounds swelling her waist and thighs.  She didn't quite know whether to feel happy or sad: Deena was unnerving her. 

        Deenas hand touched Callie's thigh, lightly, unthreateningly, and moved up to her tummy, packed tight into her jeans.  Callie started to feel aroused, more aroused than shed ever felt with Steve.

        "You'd feel more comfortable, you know, if you undid the top button of your jeans.  Your tummy needs room to breathe!"

        "You're right" -- embarrassed -- "these jeans have got very tight recently.  I gained more than I thought this winter."

        "Gain as much as you want.  I wont complain.  I like women who look like women."

        Callie undid the top button.  As her tummy eased, she let out a little sigh.

        "Look, Ill be frank.  I'm attracted to you.  Id like to get to know you."

        "I'm -- I'm not a lesbian, not really.  I just like coming here."

        "Well that's something we could explore.  Did you mind me touching you just now?"

        Callie's heart was pounding.

        "No" -- hesitantly -- "No" -- more confidently -- "I would have stopped you if I did.  I would have stopped you if you'd been a man."

        "Do you find me attractive?"

        Callie looked into Deena's magnetic dark eyes.  She looked at her handsome round face, mannish haircut, the bulk of her breasts and chest, which her open leather jacket did nothing to hide, the spread of her waist -- weight worn proudly, almost with a swagger.

        "Yes, I do."   She did.  She realized she always had.

        "Lets go somewhere quieter.  I know a place."

        "OK," Callie said, gathering her own leather jacket and wondering in an off-hand way if her own chest measurements were as big as Deena's. "But --"  she felt a little embarrassed, though she knew she needn't -- "do you mind if we get something to eat?  I'm suddenly starving..." 

        Deena smiled, Callie smiled, and they went off into the night. 

        Within two months, Callie had moved out of the flat she shared with Helen as a friend and was living with Deena as a lover.  They took things slowly.  There were so many areas of same-sex relationships for them to explore.  Sometimes it felt as though Callie spent her evenings on a psychiatrists couch, revisiting her adolescence and early adult years for past crushes on girls or women.  There were enough, she now realized, to form a hidden pattern:  a schoolgirl here, a teacher there, members of girl bands gyrating on TV, that waitress in Greece.   Deena offered wonderful support and sympathy, and had her own tales to tell:  experiencing that outcast feeling, smarting under parental criticism, especially over clothes and her short, mannish haircut.   Callie still felt a little terrified at the new world she had entered, but she couldn't have had a more sympathetic guide.

        Away from their serious talking, there was so much to do together. All of Callie's past relationships, such as they were, had been conducted from a distance;  no living space had been shared day after day.   There were so many places to go to at weekends -- Callie became a tourist again, visiting London buildings and parks just to share them with Deena.  There were household things to buy for the flat:  Deena had only recently moved in, on the back of her new job as an assistant chef in a Soho restaurant. There was Deena's goldfish to feed:  OK, that didn't take up so much time. There was themselves to feed:  yes, that took up rather more.

        As they enjoyed their nutritious, large meals, food, weight gain and size issues regularly came up in conversation.  Callie realized she had never aired her anorexic past in such detail with anyone before without feeling stung by guilt and self-loathing.  But now, heavier, she could look back on her years of meager eating as a nightmare from which she had thankfully escape d.  Deena had never been anorexic, she said, but she could offer an image battle of her own:  a big weight gain in puberty, taunting by other kids, carping comments from her mother, further weight added in her early 20s from alcohol and comfort eating. 

        "And now, just look at me, 205 pounds, and happy as a lark.  Bigger than one, though.  It does take some adjusting.  I want you to feel happy with your body, Callie, really happy with it.  And I want you to be happy with mine."

        Lying in bed they would practice what Deena called 'happiness training'.  They would stroke each other from tip to toe, feeling the extent of the flesh rounding out their stomachs, their rears, their hips, their breasts, their limbs. 

        "If the Callie of old could see me now, wrapped with all this padding, she would kill herself!" Callie said lightly one night, as Deena's fingers caressed the swathe of fat, now bigger than ever, around her middle.

        "Don't talk like that even as a joke!  And stop imagining how you were in the past.  This is you now, honey, this is the present.  Be happy with it, and be happy wherever your body takes you."

        Callie rested her head on the mound of Deena's stomach, stroking her tree-trunk thighs.

        "I want to get fatter.  I want to be as big as you!"

        "In time you probably will.".

        "No, no.  I don't want to wait.  I want to get fatter now!"  Callie, a little light headed from alcohol, suddenly sounded as excited as a child.  

        "Do you really mean that?"

        "Yes, yes."

        Deena lifted herself off the bed, and beckoned with a wink for Callie to follow, into the kitchen and the refrigerator.  She opened the door.  An Aladdin's cave of high-calorie drinks, desserts and the faster foods lay in wait.  Deena, obviously, had been stocking up.

        "Then you'd better start eating."   She pulled out a chair, plunked a chocolate cheesecake on the kitchen table, and handed Callie a fork with a grin.  

        Callie looked surprised.  It was ten o'clock.  They'd already had dinner.  Still maybe there was still some room in her stomach somewhere.  She had never had a real food binge before, but this was the age of new experiences, and she was determined to try it out. 

        "Wait," said Deena.  "You've got to dress for the occasion."

        "Isn't my underwear good enough?"

        "For the full effect you've got to wear something tight.  Put on those jeans you bought after Christmas."

        Callie at the moment would do anything Deena said.   She buttoned up the jeans, but wanted to do undo the top button as soon as she sat down.  "Don't I need room to expand?" she asked. 

        "Leave it alone," said Deena.

        Callie started in on the cheesecake.  Then came the doughnuts -- a pack of six.  Following that, an attack on the ice cream supply.  Towards ten thirty the sound of Callie eating was suddenly interrupted by a ping and a splash.  Under mounting pressure from her stomach, the top button of her jeans had flown the coop, whizzing across the room and landing in Deena's goldfish bowl.

        "I was waiting for that to happen," said Deena, grinning.  "There. Wasn't it fun?"

        Callie nodded.  The fridge was now emptied, and Callie's stomach was so distended that she looked close to giving birth.  She felt exhilarated, but she also felt queasy, blocked and bloated.  "God, I'm never doing that again!"  - she rubbed her tummy, round and hard as a lead balloon.   "For one thing, I don't have enough buttons."   They both laughed. 

        Callie brushed her teeth vigorously and piled into bed, giggling and groaning at the same time.  "I feel as though I've swallowed a mountain.  Oh, Deena, you're wicked!"  They laughed again.   It took until 4 am for Callie's stomach to calm down sufficiently to let her sleep. 

        The next day, Callie had severe constipation.  She consoled herself that the calories would be turning to fat very soon -- perhaps had done already.  Still, as she told Deena that evening, "That's no way to put on weight.  I think Ill just have to be patient and do it naturally.  I'm off ice cream for at least a week!"

        "Whatever you want, darling.  You've already put on some weight living with me.  You're bound to put on more."

        By now Callie tipped the scales at 167 pounds, enough to confirm to the world that there was no turning back now, no dieting in sight.  Callie had chosen her path.  She would be round, she would be voluptuous, and she would be beautiful.                 A month later, it was time for another parental visit.  She hadn't been back up north since Christmas.  They'd find her fatter, of course, but this time Callie had no defensive thoughts in her head.  She was determined to be upfront about things, and not be cowed.  There was also Deena to talk about, and her own sexuality.   She had given them her new London address, but had so far kept quiet about the living arrangements.   Callie looked back in her mind to her past, and the anguish shed suffered over her self-image.  She hadn't completed her personal journey yet, she knew, but she had come such a long way towards knowing who she really was.  Before she couldn't conceive of telling them about her feelings for women.  Now she felt she had to:  she owed it to Deena, and she owed to herself.  And she owed it to her parents, to help them know their daughter better.

        She knew it was best this time to visit without Deena.   One step at a time.  She was cautious, or realistic, enough to know that was the only way.  A few butterflies fluttered inside her on the train.  A few more appeared as she approached the house, scene of so many past bad memories. But they did not prevent her telling her parents almost proudly that shed gained more weight since Christmas and was happy with her present size. And --a deep breath taken -- that she was living with a woman.

        "We know.  Helen, isn't it?"

        "Not Helen, dad.  Helens a friend.  I'm living with someone as a lover."

        "A lover?"  Her mother paused over the word, weighing its significance.  "So you're a -- lesbian?"  She paused over that word too.

        "Yes."   Callie could hear the sitting room clock ticking through the silence.

        Then a look of relief slowly settled in to her mothers face.  A missing piece in Callie's jigsaw had finally been found.   "Well we sometimes wondered.  You never seemed to like very feminine clothes.  Whets that  expression?  You've gone out?"

        "Come out, mother!" Callie said, mock exasperation on her face.  "I've come out."

        Her father looked her up and down, seeing his daughter as though for the first time, as an adult, and an individual.  He saw the sweet bulk of her breasts,  the soft swell of her stomach straining her tee-shirt and jeans, the sturdy thighs, the sensuous spread of her bottom and hips. Callie truly had grown so beautiful.  "You certainly have come out, in more ways than one!"  He said it with a smile.

        Callie laughed.  It was good to be home.