The Weight Loss Camp
A Serialized Novel by Wilson Barbers

Chapter Ten

The rest of the summer passed swiftly, a constant flow of camp members passing through for their stints. Tina continued seeing her professor past his scheduled stay, and though Bill didn't lose much poundage, he did come out of camp more energetic than when he'd arrived - at least according to Tina (who was in a clear position to know). Dale Harvey left, too, his mission seemingly unsuccessful, though you wouldn't have known it from the air of satisfaction he displayed on the day of his departure. Nobody saw Venn again, but his absence had no palpable effect on the life of the camp. By now, everybody working there knew their roles and their roles' demands.

Shelley continued on at the camp and had grown so proficient at her exercises that she was soon able to lead her own groups. She was meeting with the camp nutritionist on the sly, working on revising menus so they'd be more appealing and upping the occasional cheating camper's quota in an attempt at curbing their sneaking instincts. For the most part, the strategy worked: in removing its underground quality, Shelley restored a measure of moderation to the simple act of eating. She didn't lose a pound of personal weight during the entire summer, but like Bill she had become more adept at carrying it around, more self-confident in the process.

Bob had all but moved into the camp with Shelley. After their late night tryst, they'd become more open about their attraction to each other, more publicly affectionate. At first, he thought his open involvement with her would ruin his standing with the rest of the camp (and perhaps it did with some of the thinner campers), but for the most part Shelley had become so active and outgoing with everyone that folks started acting as if they'd always been a regular item. (To a certain extent, the client turnover helped cement this impression.) More than anyone else, Bob and Shelley were Camp Venn.

One Friday in late August, Shelley told Bob she had to leave camp to get her affairs back home in order. "Haven't been near my house in months," she explained, and in fact Bob himself hadn't been by his apartment in the past two weeks. "I know the plants are a wreck, but that's no big deal. I need to see if the rest is all there, though."

"Want me to come along?" Bob asked. He hadn't seen Shelley outside of Camp Venn, and he was curious as to how she looked out in the real world. He also wanted to view the kind of home she'd made for herself.

"Sure," she said, obviously delighted by the request. "We'll leave when you get off work."

That afternoon, while half his student workers took the camp on a short hike, Bob and the rest of the boys worked on properly sealing up Venn's peepholes with spackling and paint. The job was accompanied by much snickering and speculation, one of the group (the same one who'd initially given Bob so much argument when he started) having correctly surmised the spy-holes' originator. All the student workers had softened their contemptuous attitudes toward the campers over summer, none more than the formerly pimply-faced debater. His complexion had cleared in the outdoor sun, and with it seemed to come a kinder viewpoint. If none of them had undergone the same full-tilt change that Bob had experienced, they'd clearly grown more tolerant.

"Man, that Venn was something," one of the helpers said, as they wrapped up their task. Not all the rooms, Bob had discovered, were peepable, which cut down on the chore considerably. Old Man Venn had been big on keeping tabs on room assignments, according to Tina, and on more than one occasion had shuffled the assignments. No surprise there.

Across the tennis courts, the hiking group was sitting back and resting, chatting among themselves. Squinting into the sunlight as they left the sleeping quarters, Bob sought out his lover's distinctive form. She was wearing a bright orange sweat suit and almost seemed to glow in the distance: the sight made Bob both cheerful and horny. "Yeah," he agreed, turning to the boy who'd made the comment, "that Venn was something, all right."

Max's plans for the camp became clearer once they started opening his correspondence. Much of the mail was frankly depressing, gimmicky sales pitches for this week's fad diet or for overpriced packaged groceries. Venn had apparently been on the verge of working up a deal with one of the latter companies - a California firm named Sveltefood, Inc. - but his disappearance put a kibosh on that arrangement. Nobody felt too bad about the blown deal.

Another load of mail was more promising, though. Hardly a day went by without at least one corporation's exploratory inquisition into the possibility of working up a deal with Camp Venn. Years ago, the prosperous businessman was sleek and well fed. These days, though, size equated with slowness - or membership in the welfare class: two images that were anathema to the modern business mind. It seemed like there was a vast market that the camp could tap without compromising its vaguely evolving principles. As yet, neither Bob, Shelley nor Tina knew how to go about it.

"I wish," Tina sighed at one point, "we had some sort of package we could present to these guys. These companies are chomping at the bit to have something they can show to their insurance companies. Something that could symbolize their concern for their 'overweight' employees. At a time like this, I really miss Dale. He had a brain for this sort of nonsense."

Bob echoed the sentiment. He wasn't a businessman, and with Venn out of the picture for so long, he was starting to feel a bit lost. The summer had gone fine, but what about next year? They couldn't coast on momentum forever.

Kay Venn was still an unseen enigma: Bob had expected her to make an appearance once her hubby's absence was apparent, but the only contact any of them had from the big house was on pay day. Then, a stocky vaguely Mediterranean male in a casual suit drove into camp and appeared in the office with their paychecks. He resisted all attempts at conversation, merely dropped his package and left.

"Maybe," Bob said, "I should go up to the house and speak with Ms. Venn, give her an idea of what we're dealing with here. She's supposed to be the one with the business acumen, after all."

He repeated this thought to Shelley on the drive back to her house.

"Makes sense to me," she agreed. "I'm starting to wonder if the woman even exists."

The drive took more than hours into downstate. Shelley and her ex- had their home in a small city on the Illinois River, a factory town known for the building of farm implements. The house was in a homey looking middle-class neighborhood, filled with kids of all ages. The Laile estate was a two-story gabled building with green aluminum siding. The lawn was bushy from neglect but otherwise neat. By the concrete steps to the porch was the only jarring note: a plywood painted placard of a fat farmer wife bending over.

"Greg bought that for me last fall," Shelley said, noticing Bob's critical gaze. "It was supposed to be funny, but like most of his fat jokes, it wasn't." She reached into her purse for her keys, unlocked and then slowly pushed the door open. On the other side, a pile of mail had been shoved through the mail slot, bills and junk mail all crying for attention. "The place smells close," she said, reaching for the thermostat to hit the air conditioner. "Excuse me while I change into something less rustic. There's some beer in the fridge; it's about the only thing I know that's still fresh." She sashayed down the hall, while Bob took in the room.

The living room was decorated in country blue hues, flowered stenciling along the top of the wall and blue commemorative plates on a rail above the kitchen doorway. The furniture was dark wood and sturdy, widely welcoming to a woman Shelley's size; the floor was a glossily coated hardwood. On the table by the couch was a silver-framed photo of a much-slimmer Shelley in her wedding dress by a dark-haired man with sideburns and a long mustache: obviously Shelley's ex-, the hitherto unseen Greg Laile. Bob sat down, picked up the picture and looked the photo male in the eyes. Like most young grooms, he looked glassy-eyed, caught up in the magnitude of the moment.

Putting the pic back down, Bob went to get himself a Bud Light. The fridge had been pretty picked through of perishables in preparation for Shelley's camp stint, but there was a partially depleted six-pack of beer and a couple cans of Diet Coke on hand. Looked like they were going to be eating out that night.

Shelley came up behind him, fat hands on his side, belly pressing into his back. She'd changed into green drawstring pants, a tie-dyed tank top and knee-length wrap over her shoulders. With her face lightly made up, her hair pinned back, she was a knockout. How, he thought once again, could Greg Laile leave this wonderful woman?

He voiced that thought aloud. "You look so gorgeous," he added, "that I have a hard time visualizing anybody being turned off by you."

"I'll tell you something," Shelley answered, leading him back into the living room. "Greg wasn't detracted by my size - not at all - but it would've embarrassed the hell out of him to openly admit that he was attracted by it. That didn't change the fact that he was turned on by my size; it just made our marriage more hellish."

They sat and nursed their drinks, while Shelley prepared to tell him the full story of her marriage. "We met, I think I've said before, at college," she began. "I was in my sophomore year as a General Student, a plump girl taking in all the social opportunities that being away from home had to offer. . ."

. . .she met him on the quad at a spring concert, one of the last the university would offer before pressure from the community put a halt to such outdoor escapades. It was an overcast May day, threatening to rain and put an early halt to the proceedings, which perhaps accounted for the speed with which the campus crowd - Shelley included - got revved. The university commons was packed with happily screaming students in cut-offs and tee-shirts, filled with the odor of booze and pot. On a makeshift stage in front of the library, a former Woodstockian was spicily plunking his way through an acoustic set, ritualistically pulling his audience in a choral singalong. Shelley had left her dorm mates in search of a bathroom, and it was with that pressing need to find some relief that she first met Greg.

Perhaps it was a warning, that simultaneous feeling of discomfort and attraction on first seeing her husband-to-be, but if so, she ignored it. He was wearing jeans and a torn Rolling Stones tee, lingering traces of marijuana on his person, his hair fashionably long but not too long. First thing he did on bumping into her in the library doorway was stagger back, take her in, and smile. "Looking for the restroom?" he asked. "I can show you where it is."

Though she'd been in the library plenty of times, Shelley let him lead the way. He waited for her outside the Women's Room, passing up the chance to strike up a number of conversations with other feminine passersby.

"Still here?" she teased once she saw him in the hall.

"Thought you might like a beer," he answered. "I've got a cooler with some P.B.R."

"I'd love one," she replied, and with that fatal can o' beer, her fate was sealed. She followed Greg back to his spot, met his roommate (a lanky exchange student), and spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging personal histories. Greg was a graphic arts student who was doing college to avoid working in his dad's insurance business. He had one of those smoky voices you associated with late-night clubs and mixed drinks. It didn't take long for Shelley to fall for him.

They moved in together at the end of the semester, ignoring both their parents' wishes to return to their respective homesteads. Shelley got a job packing plants at a local nursery, he nailing frames together. By the end of the summer, they were very much a couple, the kind others look at to verify their own hopes of somehow finding someone compatible. She didn't go back to school that fall, but Greg did, so to further supplement their income, she took a second job at a donut shop.

Perhaps that was her downfall, working in the donut shop late nights. The hours between three and five were pretty dead, so Shelley filled them with donuts. You'd think she'd get sick of the things, but that wasn't the case. (Once she left the job, however, she couldn't look at pastry for years.) By the end of the school year, she'd put on ten pounds, nothing serious, but enough to make all her outfits tight. Greg didn't seem to mind at all. He'd pinch her midriff, grabbing the proverbial inch(-and-a-half), and say that there was "more of her to love now." She'd giggle, and though a part of her told her not to, she'd accept her boyfriend's bullshit.

By Greg's graduation, she'd put on an additional twenty-plus pounds, no longer plump and girlish but bordering on the lower range of Lane Bryant. She'd quit her job at the donut shop months before, but once her body had started packing on the weight, it was not going to be deterred by a more sensible mode of dining. The realization panicked her. She'd never really worried about her weight before, but as she edged into her twenties, she began to feel like things were somehow radically getting out of control.

At that time, Greg was still being supportive.

"You look great," he told her in the backyard of his parents' home, the night of his graduation. Greg's father had put on a spread to celebrate the first Laile male's attainment of a college degree, and Shelley had been finding it hard not to grab every item of food that was placed in front of her. She'd just started her first diet, one that she'd read about in the Sunday Tribune magazine, and she was feeling the onset of nutritional deprivation. Every time that Greg's mom came by with a plate of cold-cut sandwiches, she refused the offer by re-explaining her intentions. Ma Laile, a well-fed looking Midwesterner, would nod happily every time.

"Look," Greg said after she'd made her fourth such refusal, wondering if it all was some sort of a test that she hadn't been told about, "my dad wants me to come work in his office, and I don't have any reason to put him off anymore." He reached toward the picnic table and grabbed a cream cheese-stuffed mushroom, quickly bolted it down and continued. "It's good money, and I know where we could get a decent place in town with it. The thing is: the only way my folks'll accept our living together under their noses is if we're married."

She forgot about her dieter's hunger then. "Is this a proposal?" she asked, taken aback by the nonchalant nature of Greg's offer. She backed into the table, nearly burning herself on a citronella candle.

"I guess it is," he said, offering her a mushroom. "What you say?"

What could she say? Shelley took the mushroom and accepted his proposal. They moved into an apartment, and by the end of summer, the Laile family had its second big celebration. It was then that Shelley, fifteen pounds heavier than she'd been the night of her proposal, got her first of the Greg that was to come.

Greg: the husbandly fat-basher.

She was decked out in her wedding gown, a size sixteen, and looking pretty damn good for a woman her size. Fact is, she felt beautiful, and she was sure Greg was seeing her that way, too. At least she was sure until the reception, when they got to the cutting of the wedding cake. As they bent over to slice that first piece together, all eyes of the wedding party on them, he lowly said the following, "Better hold back on the cake. Don't want you letting yourself go now that you're married."

She was so aghast at his comment that she barely remembered the rest of her wedding.

That night on the plane to her honeymoon, Shelley vowed to lose every bit of excess weight on her body. She redoubled her efforts to cut back on calories and upped her exercise regimen. It wasn't easy: Greg had the appetite of a teenage boy, and he liked to see a big spread on his table. When they ate together, he was always trying to get her to cheat on her diet "just this once." But she held firm.

By their first anniversary, Shelley had dropped close to twenty-five pounds. She was feeling damn proud of herself and brought a new-size-smaller dress to mark the occasion. That night at the restaurant, though, Greg was anything but encouraging, pushing food on her like a drug dealer hanging around the schoolyard.

"It's only one night," he said, husky voice whispering to her across the table. "Cut yourself some slack."

Because she wanted the evening to go well, she did as he told, giving into the yearning for sour cream on her baked potato, that bowl of chocolate mousse. It was the start of an eating binge that brought back all twenty-five pounds plus twenty more, putting her past the two-hundred pound mark. Shelley's once prominent breasts were now smaller than her belly; her hips had spread even further. She'd grown fat and disgusting, an embarrassment to Greg.

Her husband agreed with her.

"How can I take you out to meet my business associates, looking as huge as you are? How you look reflects on me. . ."

This was true, though no one seemed to think Greg's own growing paunch unseemly. She retreated into their house at that point, determined not to show herself alongside her husband until she got back down to a decent weight. Days when Greg was at work, Shelley went out dressed in the most figure masking house dresses she could find, frumpy clothes that matched the way she felt about herself. She was hitting the drugstore for Ayds and Dexatrim now, feeling the acid nausea that went with too much caffeine and too little nutrition. Even if Greg had wanted to take her out nights, by then she was feeling too queasy to enjoy anything.

She spent two years living this way, whittling herself down and feeling like hell the entire time. Greg watched her reduction and while he continued to verbally encourage her efforts, his actions were somewhat less supportive. Sex between them became less and frequent the longer she dieted, their nights together devoted to prime time tube sucking, Greg snacking his way through the evening. At times she felt like he was testing her resolve, leaving an open canister of Pringles between them on the couch, buying so much junk food that there were always leftovers in the house during the day. But she held firm and dropped down to under 140 before she started to put the weight back on.

If she could single out the most frightening moment in her life, it was the start of that second escalation. She was following her diet carefully, hadn't cheated once in over a year, and still her damn scale was telling her that five fucking pounds had reattached themselves to her frame. All her life Shelley had been told if she kept to a sensible diet, she'd keep trim, and here she was adding poundage in spite of her best efforts.

She felt doomed to fatness, and once she settled into that mind-set, her body went along with it. She'd wake up in the middle of the night, feeling famished and unable to resist that feeling. Standing in front of the refrigerator, she'd kill Greg's leftovers, grabbing the chip bags from the top of the Kenmore, reaching into the freezer for half-full containers of Edy's ice cream. Greg never said word one about her new eating habits - or her ballooning body - until it was too late.

Shelley added forty-seven pounds to her expanding body this time, moved from the status of Woman with a Weight Problem to Woman Who'd Really Let Herself Go. Her face grew a dangling extra chin; her cheeks were less prominent than her jowls. Shelley's belly had started to grow its first fold; her upper arms were starting to swell over her elbows. But most of her new weight still went to her hips and butt. Her thighs dimpled, and when she sat, she felt the fat on the back of her legs flatten and spread. Her ass shelved out behind her, moving with a mind of its own when she walked. Shelley could feel it swaying impudently behind her, a constant reminder of out-of-control her life had gotten.

The only solution: get outside help. She went to the Laile family doctor for her first prescription appetite suppressant, but the only thing it seemed to suppress was her sex drive. From there it was a short step to the so-called diet professionals, and with each tour of duty the same thing happened: initial weight loss followed by greater gain. It didn't matter what the regimen - ultra low calorie, high protein liquid diet, whatever - the results remained consistent. The bigger she got, the smaller her regain, but the fact remained undeniable. Over the course of her marriage, she dieted herself up to over 350 pounds.

Her life with Greg continued its mundane course, the only difference being the quality of the fat jokes he brought home. The broader she got, the broader the jokes. At least once a week he'd bring one home from work, with such consistency you'd almost think he was commissioning someone to write the damn things. It didn't stop there, of course.

In establishing her lack of resistance to such put-downs, Shelley had given him permission to take it farther. Her hubby became an avid consumer of fat joke novelty items: pig-shaped refrigerator magnets, coffee mugs with snappy sayings ("Those who indulge bulge."), abusive greeting cards, the whole nine-plus yardage. The ultimate, though, was his purchase of the fat-assed yard decoration.

She remembered the day he brought it home. It was a Saturday, and Greg had gone to the yard and garden shop to check out leaf blowers. When he returned, lugging this flat curved placard out of the mini-van, she felt a flash of dread. Without even seeing what he was carrying, she knew from the expression her husband's face that it was going to be something smart-assed. Following him out into the front yard, Shelley watched him scope the area for the best place for his yard dec. The placard was leaning against the mini-van, a butt high representation of a broad-beamed country woman bending over to pick up some weeds or flowers.

For the first time in their marriage, Shelley felt herself grow furious with her husband. Bad enough that he brought all those unfunny items into the house - now he was advertising his contempt for her. She was angry, and she let Greg know it. As he stood in the middle of the yard, she stomped up to him and loudly asked what the hell he thought was doing with that piece of crap in the yard.

Greg looked at her as if her rage was totally incomprehensible. "It's just a little yard dec," he explained. "They had 'em for clearance over at The Yard Grounds. I thought it'd be kinda cute in the front here."

"Cute?" she sneered. She wanted to slap him.

"Oh, I get it," Greg said, walking back toward the van. "You think this thing is a personal insult. It's just a stupid yard dec. Where's your sense of humor?"

That stopped her. Had years of unsuccessful dieting made her sour and unappreciative? Greg had stuck by her when other men would have fled, and here she was, getting steamed at him. She was, after all, fat - fatter than this plywood representation, in fact. Surely she could laugh at this fact.

Like so many of her generation, Shelley was vaguely intimidated by the era's humor, by a dread of being thought too straight-laced to take the barbed and oppressive insults that frequently passed for cutting edge commentary. She let Greg put up his front yard insult, though she never could pass it without inwardly cringing, feeling the eyes of the neighborhood upon her and her wooden doppelganger.

And so she retreated into the house even further, her one extended trip into the world being her first stay at Camp Venn. Shelley probably could have lived that way for years, not happy but least aware of her place in the world. Then she discovered Greg's magazines.

She was looking for some scotch tape and had gone into the garage to Greg's tool bench. Hanging on the pegboard was a thick roll of transparent plastic tape, thicker than your average scotch but okay for the job she had in mind. She reached for the roll, and in pulling it off the peg, managed to pull the peg, too. With its removal, a loud clunking sound came from behind the board, followed by the flap of paper hitting the floor. Looking down, Shelley saw a pile of glossy mags under the workbench. Stooping to retrieve them, she got the shock of her life.

They were skin mags, full-blown visual catalogs of women with their legs spread, breasts in their hands, salacious expressions on their made-up faces as they extended their invitations to masturbation. But what startled her was the size of the models, repped by the books' consistently alliterative titles. Hefty Honeys. Luscious Lardettes. Massive Mamas. They all were huge: models of fat and wanton womanhood, flaunting instead of hiding their size. Some had even allowed themselves to be pictured eating, smearing chocolate or whipped cream across their porky torsos.

What was Greg doing with this stuff? She flipped open one of the mags to see a cumbrous brunette kneeling in profile so that her dangling paunch was in center focus. One page later and the same model was reclining on a set-up of pillows, leaning to the right so her hanging belly swelled over her blubbery right thigh. Jesus, the woman even had a gall bladder scar!

And yet, Greg had obviously been interested in this pose: the upper corner of the page was folded down.

Shelley spent the next hour poring Greg's girly mags, comparing and evaluating, marveling and occasionally feeling somewhat disgusted. There were women in these books that made her look small, others who seemed merely plump. All seemed unabashed by the act of posing, showing off their avoirdupois.

Finally, standing in the glare of the garage light, skin mags scattered across Greg's workbench, the realization came. Her husband was attracted to these obese bimbos! A closet fat fancier, he'd hidden his inclinations behind a veil of comic insults and willful asexuality. Their own sex life had been close to non-existent over the past year, yet here he was, mooning over a collection of photographs. The revelation was enough to kill whatever illusions she still held about their marriage.

Shelley returned to the house, her discovery still strewn about her husband's corner of the garage, a single sex mag in hand. Sitting on the edge of their king-sized bed, she stripped down to nothing and compared her reflection to the women in Greg's collection. She wasn't much different from any of them, she saw: where so many nudey pics were posed to emphasize smoothness (or at least have it airbrushed in), each of these women had their individual marks. A cluster of blue veins on the left front thigh. Stretch marks along the back. Clumps of cellulite on the dangling upper arms. It made them more than mannequins, more human and thus ultimately sexier. Why hadn't she ever been able to look at herself this way?

She cast the magazine aside and turned to fully focus on herself. Posed the way she was, legs outstretched to accommodate her front, breasts sagging atop both sides of her ballooning paunch, Shelley poked and felt along very fold she could find. The touch of her pudgy fingertips with her close-cropped housewife's nails sent a rush through her skin. Somewhere in the neighborhood, a mother was shouting for her child.

Her flesh was soft and quivery, attuned to her touch and the texture of bedspread beneath her. With a flush of anticipation, she followed the swell of her prominent forefront - from dangling apron to fold to overhanging mams - and began to explore her nearly realized womanhood. Hefting her left breast, feeling its fleshiness bulge over her palm, Shelley felt herself verging on a revelatory arousal.

She massaged her stiffening nipple, fist-sized aureole dark against her pale white flesh. The more she manipulated herself, the more her corpulent body shook, particularly her paunch. It quivered before her, shimmering beneath her breasts with seething excitement, cutting off view of her reawakening sexuality. Cradling her breast with both hands, right arm pressing against its floppy partner, Shelley began to taste her tit flesh. It'd been too long since she'd felt the warmth of an exploring tongue on her skin, she thought.

Over in the mirror, her fat twin was equally caught up in the moment. Her lower face and chins obscured by the pushed-up mound of bust, she playfully stuck her tongue out at her reflected self then went back to the serious business of getting to know herself. She took in every detail: the join of her arms where the upper portions started to grow, the ever widening bulges on her inner thighs, the dimples that appeared throughout, every visible stretch- and birthmark. The more Shelley focused, the hornier she got. Her deep breath grew huskier, filling the bedroom, blocking out the sounds of the neighborhood.

Finally, she reached down for her crotch, lifting the hang of her belly to get to her twat. The smooth weight pushed against her wrist, as she began to part her unseen lips. Falling back, Shelley spread her cumbrous thighs, her thumb buried between her bulges. Once she entered herself, she began to grow wet.

Her hips pushed into the corner of Greg's skin mag. All across the country there were men turned on by the fat flesh in that periodical. She imagined herself posing for a photo spread, expanded that fantasy to take in the purchasers of that pictorial, and visualized the man of her youngest dreams as he lustfully perused her image. As he lovingly touched the flat reproduction of her nether regions, it was almost as if his fingers were caressing her crotch. There were, she suddenly knew, men out there who would take her as she was - without the apologies or the put-downs. The realization pushed her to the edge of climax.

Shelley strained to once more catch her reflection, but on her back she was hampered by the rise of her belly, the arch of her left leg. Undaunted, she closed her eyes and re-concentrated on stimulating herself, first inserting one then two fingers into her ready vagina. Her passion filled as she pushed to reach her clitoris; her wonderfully widened body shuddered all around her. The afternoon light dimmed as she pressed against her most sensitive self.

Then she came, and in doing so rolled over to face herself. Her hand was lost in her thighs; her belly flowed out from her under her arm against the mattress. With the moment of orgasm came a sense of rightness that Shelley hadn't felt since college. She was as pretty as any of these models. Here she'd been shutting herself away in anticipation of a day that would never come, the day that she was once-and-forever thin. The truth was: she was fat and she'd be fat. But that didn't mean she couldn't be both beautiful and sexual.

She dressed in a robe and returned to the garage, feeling more at peace with herself than she had in years. Gathering Greg's magazines, Shelley made a display of them, putting a standing row of skin mags on the workbench and creating a trail to the house entrance. Returning to the kitchen, she then set the dining table for two - best silverware and all - with magazines on each plate. After that, she pulled down an unopened bag of Tostitos and went into the bathroom to shower, leaving the ventilation fan off so she could hear Greg's return.

He didn't make it past the garage, missing her kitchen place settings entirely. Shelley stood by the stove, waiting for him to enter the house, but apparently the fact of his discovered cache was enough to scare Greg off. She heard him squealing out of the drive, raced to the window to see him drive away. Two days later, Shelley received a registered letter from the Laile family lawyer. Greg was unable to meet her face to face - whether from guilt or anger she didn't know. All their communication took place over the phone.

The divorce itself was painless: constructive desertion, with Greg letting her keep the house and the bank account. He returned to the bosom of his family, and Shelley spent the winter refashioning herself, buying mail order clothing that looked attractive, working up a hairdo that went with her fuller face. She read up on alternative medical approaches to obesity and in doing so discovered how she'd yo-yo dieted herself up to her present weight. With this in mind, Shelley vowed never to diet again. She'd be fit, but she wasn't going to agonize over her weight. . .

". . . which is where you met me," Shelley concluded, "out in the world for the first time since my divorce. Took me some time to get to the point where I could even try to come onto another man. It's one thing to know that there are guys out there attracted to you, another to actually make contact with one. I was pretty lucky, I think."

"Me, too," Bob said, standing to take their empty cans into the kitchen, pausing to imagine Shelley's skin mag display on the kitchen table. They walked out into the evening, passing the farm wife placard on their way to the car. When she got to the passenger door, though, Shelley swiveled back around.

"Just a sec," she told Bob, and she headed back to the crouching placard. Grasping the lawn dec with both hands, Shelley began to shake and bend it back toward the grass. With a loud cracking sound, the plywood separated and broke above the display's ankles. It fell to the ground sans feet. Shouting and standing on the placard, Shelley pressed it against the ground with her weight. The plywood woman made a crinkling sound then split down the middle.

Once she'd crushed its middle, it was a snap! bisecting the flat woman. Laughing, she lifted the two pieces and tossed them into trash. Then she returned to the car, a triumphant expression on her round face.

"Don't know why I didn't do that months ago," she told Bob, grabbing his hand after settling into the passenger seat.

"Maybe you needed a witness?" Bob guessed.

They drove off to dinner. On the way, he asked his fat lover about her childhood fantasy.

"Do you remember what he looked like? Some particular movie star?"

"Nothing that specific. When I think of my fantasy lover, I don't see a particular face or body. All I can tell you is he brings a certain kind of feeling."

"A feeling."

"The same kind of feeling you bring to me," Shelley finished, leaning against him affectionately.

Fat Magic

Chapter 11