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It was only by degrees that Melanie realized she was gaining weight. Quite subtly her upper arms had become fleshed out and her waist thicker. Indeed, by the time she'd found a couple of her favorite dresses inexplicably tucked in the back of Steve's side of the closet she'd grown far too rotund for them to fit.

What was happening to her? True, if she thought about it for a moment she had to admit marriage had been good to her; she'd let down her guard. Intent on her new position at her father-in-law's firm, she'd given up the gym for want of time. Then, too, Steve, who prided himself on being an egalitarian type of husband, had turned into a superb cook. Italian dishes were his specialty but he was a whiz at French cookery as well. In particular his pastries were to die for, thick with cream and often awash with rich chocolate. Who could resist? Well, it was clear she had to do just that!

For the next few days she refused second portions and even skipped desserts. Steve was distinctly put out. I cooked this especially for you, precious, and now you're turning it down as if it was one of those packaged Twinkies!

I'm fat, that's why!

Not fat, silly goose, adorable! He leaned out and patted her rounded belly.

Tears welled up in Melanie's eyes. You won't love me if I keep gaining! I'll look like a cow.

Steve drew his chair closer. That's not so! Actually, to tell you the truth, you're sexier now that you've put on some weight. He looked into her eyes as he stroked the heavy breasts that strained against her snug blouse. You're adorable, don't you know that?

You like me being fat? she asked incredulously.

Absolutely! he replied, and kissed her with so much passion they ended up making love on the huge living room couch.

Well, Melanie decided, she did like to eat and if being somewhat chubby made Steve happy, who was she to spend all that energy dieting and working out? She could now have her cake and eat it too, so to speak. Relieved, she allowed herself more dietary leeway and began having seconds of Steve's lasagna that was heavy with sausage, beef, thick ricotta and mozzarella cheese. Even after downing three portions at one meal she managed to scoff down spumoni ice cream and home made rice pudding topped with real cream. She would gladly have gone on that way forever, she later thought, if she hadn't discovered Steve's dark side.

I've been a real dummy, she told her cousin Ruth, the only person she felt she could confide in. Ruth was an odd bird, she knew, a heavy set single woman who apparently was well set up financially and didn't have to work, or perhaps her reputed dabbling with the occult somehow brought in money. Melanie didn't know for certain and didn't much care. What mattered was that Ruth was a wonderful listener and infinitely kind.

So, tell me this again. Your doctor said you're gaining at a stupendous rate and your throat's all inflamed so . . .

It's not just suspicion, Ruth. I found his equipment and the sleeping pills!

You're positive he's been putting a tube down your throat when you're asleep to feed you?

Just like geese are fattened up on a farm! I mean, wasn't I getting fat enough fast enough for him? What does he want? She slapped her bulging thighs. But that's not the real problem, Ruth.

Her cousin nodded solemnly. I know. He's cheating on you.

You know! And you didn't tell me? Melanie's face screwed up with hurt.

Would you have believed me? Ruth leaned over her own pendulous belly to pat Melanie's hand. He's got a thing for fat ladies.

Have you? The question hovered on the air.

Ruth laughed.

No, darling. Skinny men like Steven aren't my cup of tea and, besides, I'd never betray you. She laughed as if contemplating a delicious secret. But good old Steve, the wandering gander, might prefer to waddle about in his own home yard if he shared your passion for food, hmmmm?

He never overeats! He just likes to cook and . . .

Well, we can fix that, my dear.

Melanie looked at her. I'd never force feed anyone like that!

Who's talking force, my silly goose? Ruth rose and retrieved a curiously carved box from the mantle above her fireplace. Opening it, she took out a tiny cloth-wrapped packet. All you need do is put this powder in his glass of wine at supper and your beloved hubby will sleep through the night like a baby.

It won't hurt him? Melanie asked anxiously.

Ruth laughed. Not in the least! He'll sleep like a baby and eat like a growing boy. She smiled like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. You'll be delighted with the results and it'll keep our roaming gander at home. You'll see, cousin mine.

Melanie did as she was instructed. At supper she slipped the potion into Steve's glass of wine and smiled lovingly as he quaffed it immediately. He studied the glass. Hmm, that was pretty good. He looked over at his wife. I'm pretty hungry tonight. And you?

They had French cuisine, dripping with butter and cheese sauce, but if Melanie thought Steve would stay at home she was sadly disappointed. After polishing off a slice of ice cream cake, which was most unusual for him, he pleaded work at the office and took off. Melanie was immediately on the phone to Ruth.

Come over tomorrow and I'll give you another packet, her cousin told her.

In all, Melanie sought and obtained three magic potions from her cousin Ruth, and used them all on Steve, except for some confusion with one glass of wine. Catching her stirring the glass with a spoon he instantly walked over.

Whatever are you doing? he asked perplexed.

There was some sediment in the glass, she blurted.

How could there be? He insisted she taste the glass before he did.

What, did he think she was poisoning him? To still his suspicions, Melanie drank half the glass and handed it over to her husband. Your turn, she said as provocatively as possible. She leaned her chubby frame against him as he finished the glass.

Obviously, Melanie realized, she'd been too impatient with the potion in the beginning. Within the month Steven's appetite had clearly picked up but, more than that, it had become obvious he enjoyed eating. Not a dollop of sour cream went into his dip that he didn't swallow a spoonful himself, the better to be sure it tasted good, he assured Melanie. She caught him licking the icing bowls and polishing off the last pieces of ravaged cakes they'd had for dessert. More to the point, the moment his appetite flagged at meals, she could easily restore it by proffering a bite of food.

By the third month, there were no more evening visits to the office to do work. Indeed, satiated with food, Steven had no desire to leave the house, but he did want sex with Melanie, and then some.

Their meals became a ritual of foreplay. He fed her not too tiny tidbits of meat in hollandaise sauce and she fed him whopping tablespoonfuls of mashed potatoes dripping with thick gravy. By now both of them had to invest in new clothing.

I've got to diet, Steve moaned as he studied his ever expanding waistline. I can't see my feet!

But another visit to Ruth for yet another packet of potion quickly put an end to such ideas. Within days all thoughts of diet were forgotten as Steve ordered in four giant pizzas topped with cheese and pepperoni and demolished three of them while Melanie had to be content with the remaining one. I have some rocky road ice cream, she said coyly.

Steve smiled. I'll have some only if you polish off the apple pies first. I love watching you eat.

Melanie grinned. She had topped 350 pounds long ago and was steadily gaining.

With their table loaded with ice cream, pies and the almost forgotten newly baked chocolate brownies, Steve and Melanie were deeply engrossed with eating when there was a light knock at the door.

Who could that be? Melanie asked, dejected lest anything interfere with their anticipated evening of mutuality.

Steve smiled wickedly. Maybe another fat lady? he said, stopping to kiss Melanie's plump shoulder as he waddled over to the door. His rear was the rival of Melanie's by now.

It was Ruth, fatter now than ever. Ah, my fat gander, she said, pinching Steve's plump cheek. Have we fattened you up enough, hmmm?

He grinned, and stepped aside so she could squeeze by his enormous belly.

Melanie looked perplexed. Ruth?

The one and only, she said, kissing her cousin. I've come to join you now that my goose and gander are so very plump. She laughed as she took her place between them at the table. So nice that you like your women fat, Stevie, she added, patting his huge stomach.

Absolutely, he said, proffering the rich cake to them both with a knowing smile, clearly a happy gander to have such fat geese to share.