“Hey, Jen. You look great,” were Luke's first words. He hugged her again, his warm bulk against her.
“You don't look too bad yourself,” said Jenny, who meant it. “I've taken what you said about dressing for the weather to heart, and it's hotter today…” She fought the urge to blush; she was sure her tummy was visibly sticking out. But then Luke was hardly in a position to criticise her there. She sucked it in just in case.
“It suits you,” said Luke, reaching out to tickle her bare midriff, which surprised her. They walked along in the warm sunshine, talking of nothing in particular in the way very old friends do. After a couple of hours of brisk walking, passing through the park, they began to think about lunch and decided to go to a new Italian restaurant Luke had heard about. Jenny was surprised to find that she was really hungry.
“Must be all the walking,” she thought. “That's the most exercise I've had time for in a while.” She ordered a medium pizza with wild mushrooms and Luke a large with spicy meat. She ate three out of six slices very quickly and then caught herself - what would all that cheese do to her waistline?
“Hey,” said Luke, “can I try a slice of yours?” She passed one across - she wasn't intending to eat any more of it - but he passed her one of his in exchange. It smelled fantastic, the melted cheese marrying perfectly with the savoury pieces of meat, and she couldn't resist just tasting it. Mmmmm, she thought, I wish I'd ordered this now, but in a small… even the medium was larger than I expected. “Good?” Luke asked, seeing the slice vanish pretty rapidly. “Have another, and I'll have another of yours.”
The snag was that Luke's pizza, being larger, was cut into eight slices, not six, each of which was larger than a slice of Jenny's. He had had five left, so there were two pieces left over once Jenny's had run out. “Go on - one more each? Keep me company!” Jenny was persuaded, although she felt very full, having consumed seven pieces of pizza, far more than she intended to eat. Her shorts didn't feel loose anymore - her stomach felt almost tight against the waistband, and she declined dessert, though Luke certainly didn't. Looking down, she thought her tummy was sticking out more than when she came in, and as she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror on the wall as they stood up to go, she was sure of it. This is quite normal after a large meal, but Jenny's usual baggy clothes had never let her see or feel the effect before. Just as well she was with Luke, she thought; she felt like a bit of a greedy pig, but he had persuaded her to eat all that pizza, and she felt slightly gleeful, slightly wicked at having done so.
As they strolled that afternoon, Luke invited her to dinner that night. “You can't cook!”
“Little do you know. I've been living in an apartment with four other guys for the last year, so I've had to. I'm quite a good cook so long as you like pasta, and I even enjoy it.” Jenny wondered if this new-found interest was responsible for the extra pounds he was carrying - kind of a graduate version of the freshman fifteen? - and then dismissed the idea. Luke had always been a big eater. He proved this by buying a three-scoop ice cream mid-afternoon, despite his big lunch.
“You want anything?”
“I'm still full from lunch,” said Jenny. This was true.
“You couldn't eat this much ice cream on an empty stomach,” teased Luke. “You hardly eat anything. You couldn't even finish that pizza at lunch.” Yes, thought Jenny, but I finished YOUR pizza instead. She felt weirdly rebellious.
“I could. I will!” she said, stepping up to the kiosk herself.
“Five dollars says you can't finish that,” said Luke, eyeing the three generous scoops of vanilla and caramel which Jenny had ordered. Jenny grinned and took long, slow licks. The ice cream slid down her throat like liquid silk, wonderfully rich and cool. It did take her a bit longer to eat it than Luke had taken, but she savoured every bit, even though by the end she could just about taste the icecream trying to make its way back up her throat, and she felt that if she'd had to move too quickly or if anyone gave her a bump, she would overflow. Her stomach, still not recovered from the pizza, felt tight as a drum. She crunched up the last part of the cone and - very, very carefully - took a bow. Oooh, she thought. I can hardly bend, and it isn't just the fitted shorts. She ran a hand gingerly inside her waistband while Luke applauded, and then ruefully fished out five dollars.
“Hey, I'm in profit on this deal,” Jenny said.
“That was truly amazing. I've never seen you eat so much as today, ever,” commented Luke, gently poking her distended stomach with his finger. “You're so skinny, I don't know where you put it all.”
“I'm not so skinny as I used to be,” said Jenny ruefully, “and I guess I won't be, either, if I make a habit of doing that.” Ooh, I won't need any dinner… or to eat ever again! she thought.
“Wouldn't be a bad thing either,” said Luke.
“What do you mean? You don't want me to get fat, do you?”
“Well, just my opinion, but most girls are more attractive with a few curves - you wouldn't want to bruise yourself on them, wouldya?” Luke laughed, and they changed the subject.
That evening, in Luke's mom's kitchen, Luke cooked tagliatelle in cheese sauce - far too much tagliatelle in cheese sauce, in fact.
“Oh, Luke, there's enough for three or four people here.”
“I must have gotten accustomed to cooking for five boys… Just take what you want, and we can put the leftovers in the refrigerator. Wouldn't want you to accuse me of fattening you up today,” he said. By this point, the discomfort from the pizza and ice cream had entirely vanished, and to Jenny's amazement she was hungry again. Luke put out a dish of olives while the pasta cooked, and as he bustled around the kitchen, grating cheese, putting CDs on and asking her what she thought, making jokes, Jenny absentmindedly emptied it. The olives didn't even take the edge off her hunger; their saltiness aroused it further. When the tagliatelle was ready, Luke and Jenny served themselves from the pot in the centre of the table, and Jenny took a hearty portion. Once they had cleared their plates, Luke helped himself to more and so did she. They ate slowly, and it was only when Luke took the pan to rinse it before putting it in the dishwasher that Jenny became aware they had finished all the pasta themselves. Her stomach was absolutely stuffed full again - how could she not have noticed how much she was eating? - and she would have liked to unbutton her shorts, but didn't.
Sated from her large meal, Jenny was glad to get out into the cool evening air of the porch. She sat next to Luke and they talked. Luke put some more music on, and they fell into a companionable silence… Jenny awoke suddenly to find herself leaning on Luke's shoulder, with his arm around her, resting on her warm stomach.
“You dozed off, and you looked so peaceful I hadn't the heart to move and wake you up,” he said, rubbing his other arm.
“How long was I asleep?”
“Only a half-hour or so, I think. You must be bushed. Want me to drive you home?” Jenny said yes, as she didn't care to go home alone in the dark. They got into the car. As she strapped herself in, she became aware of how very, very full her stomach still was. She felt it again, every bend they rounded, every bump they drove over.
As they said goodnight, Luke drew her towards him and she had the momentary impression that he was about to kiss her, but he turned it into another bear-hug. She felt her gorged stomach bounce against his slab of soft belly-fat, and a tremor ran through her.
In her bedroom, she undressed and stood before her full-length mirror. She had expected a sense of pressure released when she took her shorts off, but it didn't come; it wasn't primarily the shorts (though they were tighter) but the amount of food inside her that was causing the pressure. Her tummy was definitely sticking out, and if she rubbed it she could feel that under the thin layer of covering fat, it was still stuffed as tight as could be. She ought to have found this repulsive, she thought, but she didn't. She thought back earlier to the size-16 brunette in the short shorts the day before - she was an attractive girl and obviously she knew it. The older woman, the “Celtic fertility goddess” and the very large lady in red had also been attractive in different ways, but Jenny didn't think she wanted to emulate them. She rather wondered what today had all been about - surely she didn't want to get fat? Why had she eaten like a starving woman all day?
She got a bottle of body lotion, lay back on the bed and massaged it into her stomach, which eased the overstretched feeling a bit - she wasn't sure if it was the lotion or the rubbing that was doing it. As she dropped off to sleep, she vowed to weigh herself in the morning, and think seriously about a diet. Maybe today was an aberration.
In the morning, waking late, Jenny headed for the bathroom. She'd last weighed herself a couple of weeks ago, and she'd been at 125, which had felt worrying, and no way had she lost weight since then. Apprehensively she stepped on to the scale. 134. What the… she couldn't have put on 9lb in a day, could she? Jenny stood in shock for a moment. Then she began to rationalise that she must still have a lot of undigested food, and water, in her - she remembered reading somewhere that it takes 24 hours to digest a meal completely - and that since she hadn't weighed herself very recently, she might even have started yesterday a few pounds over 125. In the mirror, her tummy still looked a little puffy, though not nearly as distended as the day before. As she rubbed more lotion into it, she wondered if it was really slightly squishier to the touch, or if that was an illusion.
She went back over to Luke's for lunch with him and his parents, who were glad to see her. Lunch was simple: salad and a selection of cheese with different breads and crackers. They sat at the table for a couple of hours as Luke told recent anecdotes about law school and his parents asked Jenny about her new job. Luke's dad, a cheerful, solid man who undoubtedly looked just as Luke would do in thirty years, told Jenny not to work too hard, and poured her a second glass of wine.
“No point saying that to Jen; she never does anything by halves, remember? She's so determined. Resolute. Guess that's why she got all As all through school,” said Luke, who had been rather too laid-back about his schoolwork until the age of 15 or so and had got by on brains alone. Jenny glowed. She didn't see herself as determined, more of a plodder, but it was nice to know that her best friend thought she was. She was a hard worker by nature, she knew that.
“Nice to see you looking healthier at last, though,” said Luke's mom. “You looked run ragged the first few months you were doing that job.” The subtext to this, Jenny suspected, was “you've gained some weight,” but although Jenny thought she ought to feel peeved, she realised that in fact, she didn't. Then Luke asked if he would have much chance to see her again, as he only had the rest of the week at home before he headed off for his summer internship and she would be working. Jenny said she would meet him after work on Wednesday and Friday.
She left Luke's house aware that because of the nature of the meal, she had no idea how much she'd eaten for lunch - they'd been sitting there picking slowly at the crackers and cheeseboard for so long - but that she was pretty full (again). She went home and got on with some chores before going to her grandparents' house for dinner, wearing her usual loose skirt and concealing blouse. Dinner was a pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by syrup pudding - Jenny's Granny was English and liked to cook as her own mother had done for family dinners. It was always delicious, but Jenny was determined not to eat too much of this fattening food - anyway, she didn't think she would be able to face it after the last few days. But Granny was determined, as usual, that her descendants “needed feeding up,” and that it was a crime to waste food. Both Jenny's parents had always been naturally quite slender, as was her grandfather and her older brother Stuart. Today Jenny's usual defences were down for some reason and she didn't manage to avoid a second helping either time (or indeed a third helping of the pork); part of her wondered how she was managing to eat so much. As Luke said, normally she wasn't a big eater at all. She should feel sick, but she didn't; had yesterday's unusual gluttony increased her capacity somehow? She felt fine, not even particularly full until the second helping of pudding, and her belly didn't feel as tight as it had after the pizza yesterday, let alone the ice-cream. Nobody made any comment on how much she was eating, however. Jenny's Mom had never felt the need to regulate what her children ate, beyond teaching them enough about nutrition to make sure they knew what was healthy. Stuart especially was the type to forget to eat if not reminded.
So was Jenny normally, but that week at work she noticed that she was more aware of her hunger than before. On Monday and Tuesday, she bought her usual pita-and-apple lunch, but it didn't satisfy her, and she found herself drawn to the vending machine in the hallway by mid-afternoon. She bought packages of cookies both days and ate them surreptitiously at her desk, something she had never done before. When she got home, she was unusually hungry for dinner too, even though on Tuesday she'd been working late and got through two packs of six cookies. On Wednesday, feeling that all these cookies were unhealthy, she chose a sub sandwich instead of a pita, hoping that a larger amount of bread, salad and cold meat would fill her up and stop her snacking. This was partly successful, though she did accept half a candy bar offered to her by the red-haired girl at the next desk over.
That evening she changed into her shorts, which she imagined might be marginally tighter, and went to Luke's. He cooked dinner for her again, to directions his mom had left - “She says I've got to expand my range beyond pasta.” It was chicken in a creamy sauce, with new potatoes and broccoli, and this time Luke got the quantity right, though he divided the food exactly down the middle, not realising that small, slight Jenny shouldn't need so much as his own six foot one and 215 pounds. Luke wolfed his down in no time and, still hungry, began rooting in the refrigerator for dessert, finding a third of a large blackcurrant cheesecake while Jenny was still finishing her chicken. He split it in two, placed the sizeable pieces in bowls and got out some ice cream. “Go on, Jenny, it'll just go to waste - or I'll have to eat it myself since Mom hates leftovers,” he grinned. “You'd be saving me from myself…”
Jenny acquiesced and began on the cheesecake, even though she wasn't really hungry anymore. It still tasted good, though: rich but not overwhelming, and she managed to polish it off, becoming aware as bite followed bite that her stomach was beginning to feel stuffed, the way it had on Saturday after the pizza-and-ice cream binge. She ought to stop, but part of her wanted to feel that way again, totally satiated, with a hardness to her stomach like the pregnant woman she'd seen. After finally swallowing the last creamy bite of cheesecake, she took a big scoop of ice cream too, against her better judgement, and again felt that she was full right up to the top. Her waistband was so tight that this time she could hardly get her finger between it and her stomach; it was definitely digging in. This time, she was wearing a longer T-shirt, so she excused herself and went into the bathroom. She pulled up her T-shirt and looked at herself in the full-length mirror, turning sideways. Her stomach looked rounder than she had yet seen it, and had acquired a strange bulge a little above the waistband of the pink shorts, which were definitely beginning to cut into her tummy. Because the shorts were quite low-cut, the pressure from her stomach was actually forcing them downwards slightly. What waist she had had vanished.
She unbuttoned the shorts, with a little difficulty because of the tight waistband, and unzipped them. Her stomach seemed to spill forward by another half-inch or so; experimentally, she tried to suck it in, and found she couldn't; it was just too full. The skin looked very taut. Taking a bottle of cocoa butter lotion from the bathroom cabinet, she massaged her stomach as she had before; there was something really sensuous about feeling how full and taut she was under the surface softness. Once finished, she eased the zip partway back up, but couldn't bring herself to try to compress her tummy again, so checked that her T-shirt covered her waist and went to help Luke clear up.
When she got home that night Jenny felt guilty - three serious binges in five days (she didn't even think about the cookie consumption at work). Maybe it was just because Luke was home, she thought. He seemed to expect her to match the amount he ate, and since he was so pleased with his new-found cooking ability she didn't have the heart to say no… No, that theory didn't really hold up, did it? He didn't cook the pizza… or the roast and syrup pudding at Granny's… he hadn't even been present, in fact. She thought he'd noticed the swelling of her belly earlier that evening, she thought; he'd traced a finger across her midriff as she lay full length on the porch rocker. OK, so it had been sticking up. He hadn't made any comment though, and he'd given her another (frisson-inducing) hug as she left. As she lay on her back massaging herself with lotion -and groaning gently - she decided not to weigh herself again until she was sure that the unwarranted amount of food had left her system, to get a more realistic reading.