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Old 08-18-2017, 01:20 PM   #26
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A/N: Your wish is my command. Apologies for the delay - working too hard.

Sorry, this bit seems to have more story and less fat.

___

Monday morning, Ben went to his office whistling, cake, squirty cream, and a dozen donuts swinging in the bottom of his Tesco bag. He also went with resolutions, his heart pounding, his head buzzing. He was going to tell her he loved her. Or at least liked her. Or at least that he wanted her to dump Guy.

'Why would I do that?' Imaginary-Tessa asked him as he played out the conversation in his head, weaving through pavement thick with the London commute. 'Give me one good reason why I would dump the man I've been with for years.'

Ben had to think hard. The beard was a good reason, but it had to be something deeper than that. His job - soulless, undoubtedly, but it spun good money and kept Tessa well-fed.

He kept playing the dinner party over and over in his head. Watching Guy take his knife and fork to Tessa's plate, her annoyed requests that he stop treating her like a baby.

That was the crux, surely. The sore point. He just needed to pick at it. Suggest it. Make her think it was her own idea, her fiance's pratishness. Nothing to do with him at all.

His brain wasn't the only thing buzzing as he went into chambers. Reception was, too, a swarm blocking the corridor to his office.

A swarm surrounding Tessa's desk.

'I like that one,' someone was saying--Ginger, one of the juniors. 'Though maybe without sleeves.'

'Too fussy,' Maria said from deep within the crowd. 'Get something to show off your tits.'

'Get off my tits,' Ben heard Tessa say, from somewhere even deeper in the thrall. 'I just need something that will fit me.'

There was a thick silence, and Tessa chirped, 'Diet it is!' and everyone began going back to their desks and offices, and Ben stood there in the doorway, carrier bag hanging limply from his hand.

Only Tessa was left at her desk, sipping from a bottle of water. Her fat belly sat round in her lap, tucked neatly against the jut of her desk, her thighs brushing the keyboard tray. On her plump finger, her ring sparkled more than usual, like it had been newly polished.

She put her bottle down. She didn't smile at him.

'Set a date for the wedding at last,' she said, still not smiling, her lips a bit wobbly around the edges, chin doubling sweetly. 'Nineteenth of August, this year.'

In an instant, everything that happened after she left Saturday night was erased. That text message, that leaning forward into his ear, everything implied with those whispered words. All of the conversations planned in Ben's mind. All of his declarations of love.

'I'm happy for you,' Ben said, donuts pressing, deflated, to his knee.

'Yeah,' Tessa said. She turned the mouth of the bottle around in her palm. 'Funny, isn't it? Spent all this time assuming it would never happen, then Sunday morning he tells me he's booked the parish church.'

'He's a great guy,' Ben said, maybe with a little bit of puke in his mouth.

'He is,' Tessa looked at her computer, then back at him, the plastic bottle squeaking in her fingers. 'Well,' she said, 'better get back to work.'

'Me too,' Ben said.

He shut himself into his office until lunch, Tessa not knocking once. Then he ate two donuts and was sick in the en suite. Maria appeared behind him as he was washing out his mouth, her arms crossed, trim body leaning up against the door frame, head cocked to one side.

'Sorry,' she said.

'Yeah, well,' he said, drying his mouth on the hand towel.

'It's not done yet,' she said.

'Might as well be.'

'The guy's a wanker,' she huffed. She turned to go, hands in her pockets, all trim, casual grace. 'You know that, I know that, she knows that. She'll do the right thing. Just…be there for her, when she figures it out, okay? She needs to do it. Not you.'

Ben threw the towel on the sink and stalked back to his chair.

'I mean it, Ben,' Maria said.

'And you think I'm an idiot.'

'You are,' Maria said. 'But she's not. Just trust her, okay?' He looked up at her, stone-faced, to find a soft expression, and care in her dark eyes. 'She doesn't want to marry him either,' she said.

'Could've fooled me.'

'Not difficult,' Maria said. Her smirk faltered. 'Besides, if she wanted to go through with it, with him, would she be dieting?'

Ben frowned at her, not understanding.

'I'll leave you with that nugget,' she said. Her hand landed on the knob of his office door, turning it gently. 'And in the meantime, we can just fantasise about how fat we'll make her when she stops.'
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Old 08-18-2017, 01:58 PM   #27
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Zero apologies required for that chapter -- fit the story perfectly (and I hope your work slacks up a bit soon, for our sake )
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Old 08-18-2017, 07:15 PM   #28
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These characters feel like real people, and the arc is compelling and the pacing spot on. One of the best stories I've ever read here!
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Old 08-19-2017, 02:20 PM   #29
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When did food last taste of anything? Ben couldn't remember. He'd stopped eating lunch sometime after those donuts, and the contents of his mini-fridge ended up in the compost bin.

'I'm worried about you.' Maria bent over his desk, his face in her hands, fingers framing the plain of each cheek. 'You're not well.'

'I'm fine,' Ben insisted, batting her hands away and trying to get back to his work.

'You look like shit. Your work must be awful.'

'Haven't lost a case in weeks.'

'Mmhm,' Maria replied. 'I've heard you're making witnesses cry.'

'She was sensitive.'

'You're being an asshole to everyone.'

'I'm not doing anything.' Ben slid backwards in his wheeled chair and tossed crumpled notes into the recycling bin.

'You think you're not but you are.' Maria crossed her arms and shivered, thin as she was, even wrapped in a cashmere cardigan. She tapped her fingers against the cuff of her sleeve and was obviously weighing what she was about to say.

'She misses you, you know.'

Ben crumpled up another paper - one he still needed - and threw it so hard into the bin it bounced.

'You're going to start losing clients.'

'She's still sending me work.'

'She's the only one. The other clerks are avoiding you.'

'It's enough.'

'Let's just hope you've set free loads of repeat offenders, then.' Maria sighed and sagged onto the back of his rickety client chair. He'd never got a new one. He supposed he wouldn't, now.

'Look,' she said. 'Guy is an asshole. She's on a diet so he's been sending her food everyday. Delivery and great big bloody gift baskets full of Milk Tray. I've been taking them-'

'Why have you been taking them?'

'None of your business,' Maria sniffed, a bit pink in the cheeks. 'My point is, he's not listening to her. She wants to lose weight for the wedding and he's sabotaging her. All this, and I heard Tess mention that he votes Tory.'

'You vote Tory.'

'Yes, but at least I have the decency to be embarrassed by it.'

Ben sighed. 'You're being ridiculous,' he said, his cheeks suddenly feeling very hollow as he glared up at her with sore eyes.

'Maybe,' she said. She opened her mouth, then calmly licked her lips, ruminating on the next words to say.

'Look,' she said. 'I'm not sure I should say anything, but... someone's been writing anonymous complaints about her to the Ancient Ones.'

That caught Ben's attention.

'What?' Ben said. 'Why?'

'Because I think someone wants to get her fired so she'll stay home and grow too fat to leave the house.'

There. Something, something deep down, responded to that. Something in his chest, and in his stomach, blooming red, like anger. And something entirely different between his legs.

'You are such a perv,' Maria said.

'You're one to talk,' Ben said.

'Only because you're contagious. Ben. Ben, bloody look at me, will you?'

Ben forced his eyes from his folio to her face, only to find her glaring at him, jawline clenched so tight it could cut leather.

'I know she's clever,' Maria said. 'I know she'll figure it out on her own eventually. But eventually's too long.' She reached into her pocket and brought out a Yorkie bar, and flung it onto his desk over the crime scene photographs. 'Eat this. Go to the gym. Wear something pretty. Remember to smile'

'I-'

'Give her something to miss,' Maria said, wide trousers swishing as she turned to go. She added darkly, 'For all our sakes.'
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Old 08-20-2017, 04:19 PM   #30
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This is great! Hopefully the story won't end when Ben (supposedly) gets the girl. I'd love to see her get really big.
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Old 08-23-2017, 12:45 PM   #31
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Came late to the party but am enjoying this!
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Old 08-24-2017, 09:55 AM   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xyantha Reborn View Post
Came late to the party but am enjoying this!
Right? Such good stuff!!
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Old 08-31-2017, 08:22 PM   #33
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Outstanding work....hope that you find time to continue.
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Old 09-03-2017, 07:27 AM   #34
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Everyday, Ben went to work, slipping through crowds like he was someone else, not really feeling, not really caring, just as distant from himself as he was from every other person in a city of millions.

Everyday, Ben lunch in his office by himself, picking at dry sandwiches that Maria kept buying him from the Co-op, ignoring the receipts she slipped beneath his mug, and could only eat half of them before sliding the rest into the bin.

Everyday, Ben went home at 5:05, patted Bill (who tried to eat his hand), and sat down in the front of the television in order to fully disengage what little remained of his brain.

'Stop this,' he muttered to himself. In the mirror over the television, the visible slice of his face looked gaunt and hollow. His brother would clap him about the head if he could see him right now. 'For a woman?' he would say, with a thick slap to the back of the skull. 'This isn't right, Benny Boy. Get your head out of your arse. You don’t need her. Fuck, mate, would you look at yourself?'

But he did need her. Even now, staring into his own hollow eyes, that one memory floated to the front of his mind: he and Tessa, sitting just a few feet away at the kitchen table, so close that he could have slid a hand over onto her plump thigh. But he'd been ill, and in love, and would never touch her. Not unless she touched him first.

'What would I do without you?' Ben had asked her then, trying not to cough up into his soup.

And in his head, clearer still is that voice, the dampened lilt of the slight Geordie accent, choked with suppressed laughter: 'Die, probably.'

He was beginning to think there was a strong possibility she was right.

And Guy? Was he truly trying to get her fired? He couldn’t say; he'd only met him once, and he'd been inoffensive enough then, despite how much Ben hated him. And really, what was the difference between Guy and himself? If Tessa were his fiancé, could he say he wouldn't be coaxing her with treats and heavy meals, helping her get fatter, and fatter, and fatter?

Yes, he could. Because Tessa didn't want to. And unlike Guy, he wasn't a fucking prick.

Ben lifted himself from the sofa as though he weighed a thousand pounds, and took a deep breath that sent some of that heaviness rolling from his shoulders. His chest expanded in the mirror, and light from the lamp reflected in his dark eyes.

Then he went to extract his gym kit from Bill's cat nest under his bed.

The next day, he wobbled into work, fists clenched in resolve, legs sore, but feeling something. Smelling something, too - the toxic tang of polluted city air as it gave way to must and the light, biscuit-y note of Tessa's perfume.
Ben's nails dug into his palms. He steeled himself and gathered his voice.

'Hey,' he said.

Too loud, and a bit too assertive. Tessa started and looked up from her computer screen. It was early on a Friday, a half hour before most everyone got in, and they were the only ones in reception. The other desks were empty, the phones quiet, and Tessa sat in her desk chair, an empty fruit salad container sitting beside her keyboard.

'Hey,' she said. There was an odd tightness to her eyes and smile, something quite plastic and pained.

'How are you?' Ben asked. His own voice sounded just as strange. His skin cracked over his knuckles.

'I'm fine,' Tessa replied. 'How are you, sir?'

Ben winced at that, that title instead of his name. It'd never bothered him before, especially not when shut up in his office, food spread out between them, her backside wedged into his client chair.

She was looking quite a bit smaller, now, and a bit deflated in the same blue jersey dress she'd worn to his dinner party. There was excess fabric around her belly, which looked sad and empty, sitting gently on her lap, an easy gap between navel and desk. Her breasts were smaller, her cheeks less round, her arms no longer straining at the sleeve seams. Her knee-high boots gaped around her calves.

She knocked the empty salad bowl with her finger, looking rather hungry, too.

'Fine,' he replied. 'You're here early.'

She had been lately. Staying later than him, too. He'd started leaving with the five o'clock rush just so he could sneak by her desk without her noticing, swallowed in the flurry of activity.

'Easier to stick to my diet,' she said. 'Out of the temptations at home.'

'Diet?' Ben said dryly. He licked his lips. He knew she was dieting. Maria had said as much, and the evidence was clear: like everything she set her mind to, she was good as losing weight…nearly as good as she was at gaining it.

'I'm down over two stone,' she said. 'Hoping to be down at least another by the wedding.'

WHY? Ben wanted to cry out, but he wasn't Guy, he wasn't a shit, and he wasn't going to say that.

Besides, her voice sounded so strange, like she hated that word as much as he did. You don't need to lose a pound, Ben wanted to tell her. You're beautiful no matter your weight. I wish you'd let me show you. I wish I could prove it.

'As long as you're happy,' Ben said, though it came out a bit bitter, not at all as he intended.

'It's not that,' Tessa replied hurriedly, her cheeks flushed. 'I mean…not really. It's my mum's wedding dress.'

She bent down and began to dig through her handbag, then pulled out her mobile phone. She handed it to Ben.

'My mum,' she explained, as though he wouldn’t be able to see the resemblance.

It was a photograph of a photograph, and of someone who was obviously closely related to the woman in front of him: dark haired, high-cheekboned, but different around the chin - more pointed. She was slimmer, too, but only a little. Tessa's mother was much plumper than he thought she would be from how Tessa had described her, wasting away in her final days. She looked exuberant here, curvy and full and mirthful, radiant on her wedding day.

'She had the sense not to go full Diana,' Tessa said. 'It's simple, but I like it. I never thought I'd fit into it, but I started losing weight and got it in my head-' She plucked her mobile from Ben's open hand with a sigh. 'My heart's set on it now.'

Ben stood there awkwardly for a moment, feeling like had something else he had to say, the warmth of her mobile still sitting in his palm.

His tongue twisted and formed words that he wanted to say but wouldn't come. So many things, so many truths and lies and requests, all about making her dump Guy, her want Ben, her help him get rid of this disgusting, shrivelling feeling inside of him.

'You'll look beautiful,' he said at last, 'no matter what you wear.'

A smile edged across her face, that shallow dimple appearing, a calm warmth pooling in her dark eyes.

Then she bit her lip and slid her mobile away.

'I think Jen has a new case for you,' she said. The words were business, but the tone was something else. Her eyes didn’t leave his; she hardly seemed to blink. 'I'll have her pass it on when she gets in.'

'Thanks you,' Ben said. He didn't dare look away. 'I appreciate it.'

'That's my job,' she said, and at last turned back to her computer screen, the moment over.

He watched her type for a few seconds, wondering if there was something else he should say, then he turned to go, only to be stopped by one small word, so quiet he could hardly hear it:

'Ben?'

He turned to see her watching him, spun toward him in her desk chair, still-plump thighs pressed against the armrests, curling over the sides.

'Thank you,' Tessa said.

Something suddenly shuddered to a start in Ben's chest. A little flutter of purpose, or hope.

'For what?' he said.

Tessa shrugged, breasts jiggling minutely beneath the thin jersey.

'Sometimes I forget,' she said.

'Forget what?' Ben asked, hands hanging uselessly at his sides.

'What I'm missing," she said. "Who I'm missing.'

Then she blushed furiously, turned back to her computer screen, and reached into a little pot beside her computer.

Ben went to back to his office, cellophane rustling in his ears, followed by the sound of a boiled sweet sucked onto Tessa's sweet tongue.
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Old 09-04-2017, 01:50 PM   #35
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Thank you for this installment! Bated breath!
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Old 09-04-2017, 08:41 PM   #36
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It's getting good! I just know something is about to happen!
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Old 09-17-2017, 09:06 AM   #37
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Tessa is an awesome character. I'm looking forward to more . . .
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Old 09-24-2017, 10:36 AM   #38
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He wasn't sure what had done it - the words he said, that boiled sweet, or just something invisible in Tessa's own mind - but something had changed in those brief moments that Friday morning. He found Tessa smiling at him as he cruised into work, whistling. More cases appeared on his desk, and he was busier than ever.

And the contents of his mini-fridge were starting to vanish, like magic.

It was just a few things here and there: the remaining hunks of Diary Milk, the small bottle of Coke, the last Gu pudding from the pack. Then the pint of Ben and Jerry's. Then the pint he replaced it with. Then another.

Mysteriously, they appeared - empty and sweating - in the recycling bin down the hall.

And more appeared on Tessa, too.

He felt guilty at first, knowing he was deliberately sabotaging her efforts to slim into her mother's wedding dress. But something about it - something about those smiles, and those stealthy movements so early in the morning - told a different story. Perhaps, he thought, Tessa might be attempting to sabotage herself.

It was starting to show.

The pounds were reappearing….slowly, at first, filling back in that lower belly that had deflated in her smart pencil skirts, breasts straining at the buttons of her tops. She was still smaller than she'd been that fateful night at Ben's flat, but in some ways, she seemed rounder, plumper, sweeter. Maybe because it was done in secret, and caught in secret glances whenever he walked by her desk. Maybe it was because he wasn't allowed to look.

Maybe it was because she kept catching him looking.

It was torture, but the sweetest kind. They were talking again, little by little - snatched conversation in his office and the corridor and outside before they went opposite directions home. Tessa gave him an invitation to the wedding. Ben gave it to Bill to shred to pieces - a short streak of bitterness of which he would never tell Tessa.

Those moments grew, multiplied. They spent time together, electively, at lunch, with his office door open. He sat on her desk as they went through client correspondence and crown court judgements. He crouched beside her as she flicked through obscure parliamentary laws on Hansard.

It was something, at least. This friendship. This thing they had. Maybe nothing would come from it. Maybe it was okay.

He certainly enjoyed her company, and she certainly enjoyed his. They went out for lunch together with Maria and a hurried, flustered Christine, who bolted her meals in seconds before plastering a kiss to Maria's sharp cheek and flying away with her wig, her trousers looking a bit snug around her backside. Ben and Tessa both gave Maria puzzled glances, which Maria studiously ignored as she mopped up black pepper with her courgetti Bolognese. The glances were instead exchanged between them, and Tessa stifled a giggle into her full-fat Coke.

That night, Ben nearly broke his hand on the punching bag at the gym.

Leave him, Ben wanted to tell her every day. Every day as she came in looking that little bit fuller, a little happier to see him. Ben's wishes were winning for her body, but fuck, they were Guy's wishes too. And they weren't Tessa's - Tessa, who'd been so eager to squeeze into her mother's wedding dress for their wedding - something she hadn't brought up in conversation since she showed Ben the photograph on her phone.

What did Tessa want? What did he want? She'd wanted to marry in her mother's dress a man who wanted her too fat to walk down the aisle. Ben wanted her plump and happy and his. No one was winning, and Tessa was not a woman to be won.

Leave him, Ben thought - mentally chanted - one evening as he waited for her at Charring Cross Station. It was the one time of year that Ben didn't feel like he worked in criminal law, and he hated it. It had become annual tradition ever since Everton had that near-death experience on the M25 with the black cab driver and the heart attack, and in a fit of odd generosity had booked out rooms at the National Gallery for all barristers, employees, and important associates of Everton and Sligh. The generosity didn't extend to plus ones, so it usually involved drinking too much with Maria and whispering about what bald winged babies in the paintings looked most like which crown court judges. But tonight Maria had managed to secure a ticket for Christine, and Ben had been planning to spend the night in with Bill and Chinese takeaway until Tessa had shown up in his office, hands clasped, tight engagement ring glimmering, and asked him, 'Are you going to the big do? Because I'll go if you go.'

Only as friends, of course. It didn't need to be said.

But it also didn't matter. So Ben went. And he stood. And he waited at the Underground station for her with his hands in his pockets, wondering if tonight would be the night that something, anything, would happen.

He jumped at the sound of his name - Tessa's voice calling from the other side of the ticket barriers, waving. She pushed through slightly sideways and every word in Ben's mind that he had planned for this evening simply vanished into the thick, hot air.

Tessa was wearing a silk black dress that he hadn't seen before. It slid and tugged over every lush curve of shoulder, breast, waist, and hip, cut short above soft plump arms and low to show off an inch or two of the creamiest, lushest cleavage he'd ever seen. She wore her hair up in an artfully untidy chignon, and long silver drop earrings swung wildly with each undulation of her full body, brushing the line of her neck as she moved. There was something so smooth about her walk, so sensual, and her red lips parted in a smile as she approached him and pressed her mouth lightly to his cheek.

'You look amazing!' she said before he could, pulling back to admire his smart dinner suit that fit much better in the shoulders than it used to. She was pink-faced and panting slightly, balancing a silver clutch and a black cardigan on one arm. 'Who knew you'd tidy up so well? Saving the best for last, were you?'

Ben grinned stupidly, not able to form the words to repay the compliment.
Tessa glanced at her watch as people jostled by them, muttering.

'Best get on,' Tessa said, frowning minutely. 'Don't want to make too grand an entrance. Sligh won't be happy if I show up both fat and late.'

'Fuck Sligh,' Ben managed to say at last - not the first words he'd planned on. 'You are stunning.'

She graced him with a beaming smile, then took his hand.

Only to promptly drop it as though he'd burned her.

'Off we pop then,' she said with a tug of his sleeve. 'And all charm canons loaded and ready to fire.'

'I'll save mine for later,' Ben replied. 'Some of us have limited reserves.'

She laughed. Ben's heart jolted at the sound of it.

They earned only a few glances as they entered, Tessa a bit more out of breath for the effort of climbing the stairs, Ben a bit out of breath for the view, having climbed them behind her. There was perhaps some puzzlement from the other attendants, and a few furrowed brows at Tessa's generous bulk wrapped up so lovingly in her daring black dress, but few dared look for long. Even better, no one approached them, and Tessa was free to pick a healthy portion off the nibbles tray before the waitress made it fully out onto the floor.

Ben sipped his prosecco. Tessa looked up at a giant painting of a lactating Madonna with child, a posh sausage roll poised halfway to her mouth.

'Christ,' she said.

'I think that's the idea,' Ben said.

She laughed again. God, how Ben loved that sound.

'I always forget that the old masters were such perverts,' Tessa said.

Ben raised an eyebrow. This conversation was doing something to him. Not the topic, of course - just…Tessa. Her voice. Her smile. Her laugh. Her being here with him. It was making him flush, making his head fill up with a strange sound almost like the happy, lazy summertime buzz of flies. It was joy, he thought. Pure, unadulterated joy at her presence. This is what he had missed those months they'd stopped talking. This is what he wasn't sure he could live without. Who could blame him?

And here she was, wanting to be with him too.

'Were they,' he said with his own laugh, feeling - oddly - like he might start to cry.

'I realised when I came here with Guy. There are so many of Mary squirting milk at someone's face - at Jesus, at some poor by-passer, at the viewer….'

'I just thought that was a Christian thing,' Ben said.

'Not in any church I've ever been to. I think it might be a 400-years-before-internet thing.' A second sausage roll disappeared between her red lips. She cast a glance through the gallery door. 'How far do you reckon they'll let us wander?'

'They're pretty lax, last I remember,' Ben said, trying not to think of the one time he'd caught Everton pissing up a wall in the Bologna room.

'Excellent. Let's go look for fat women,' Tessa said.

She lifted a plate from another passing tray then took off through the nearest gallery door. Ben followed, intrigued, confused, and perhaps a little turned on.

She walked with the china plate in one hand, a champagne flute in the other, and quite quickly, like she knew where she was going. It was only another corner before they could no longer hear the music, voices, and clatter of dishes from the party, only the click of her heels and his shoes on the marble floor, and the soft swish of her dress and rub of her thighs beneath it.

'I think I remember them being this way,' Tessa wondered to herself. 'What do you think?'

'Where you lead,' Ben said, 'I'll follow.' His throat felt rather dry. He took another sip of his prosecco.

She took a hold of his sleeve again, and held on a bit longer this time. 'Let's go, then.'

Finally, they arrived in the Rubens room, and Tessa stood in the centre, a relatively small, stark black-and-white form against the grand pink walls. She looked up, throat angled, and took a few steps toward a painting.

'Have you seen this one before?' Tessa asked.

Ben was still standing in the doorway, watching her, unsure what to think or say or feel or act.

'I've never seen any of them,' she said. Her head was tilted sideways as she looked, earrings swinging. 'I always thought they'd be bigger in person.'

Ben went to stand beside her, still a healthy distance away.

It was The Judgement of Paris, according to the plaque at its side. Two men - one of them Paris, presumably - anchored themselves to a tree, while in the foreground stood three female nudes in various lengths of cloth and in various provocative poses. All three women were solid-looking, maybe a bit plumpish. Two faced the men, but one had eyes set on the viewer…in challenge or in invitation, Ben couldn’t tell.

'The painting?' Ben said. It was already a large one, nearly two metres across. His arm was tired just looking at it.

'The women,' Tessa clarified. 'Rubens has always been so famous for his fat women, but they're not really fat, are they? Just normal. Healthy. Unless I have body dysmorphia.' She gave a short, sharp laugh. 'Which might be possible.'

'No, I think so,' Ben says. 'They just look average to me.'

'Nice arses, though.'

Ben grinned. 'Not bad.'

'There are so few truly fat women in classic art.'

'Not many black men, either,' Ben said.

'No,' Tessa agreed, frowning.

Ben's face was flushing hot, and he said it before he could rethink: 'Maybe I could paint you someday.'

Tessa gave a jolt of surprise. 'You paint?'

'I took art at A level,' Ben admitted sheepishly.

'I had no idea!'

'Not many people do.'

'I'd love to see,' Tessa said. She added wistfully, 'Someday.'

They stood in silence for a moment, staring at the Rubenesque backsides. This is it, Ben thought. This is the moment. Do something. Say something. This is your chance.

'Let's go back,' Tessa said when he let the moment stretch long enough to break. 'I've suddenly come over all hungry again.'

He hesitated. But, 'Okay,' he said.

He held out an arm for her. She took it. They walked back to the party in silence, the heat of Tessa's hand burning in the crook of his elbow.

'Be right back,' Tessa said. 'Going to go sweet talk the caterers into giving me fourths.'

As soon as she was gone, a much thinner form appeared at Ben's side.

'Well?' Maria whispered, clutching so hard to her wine glass it looked as though the stem might break. 'Did it happen?'

'Did what happen?'

Maria studied his face, perhaps trying to gauge whether or not he was joking.

'You are so useless!' she cried, raising the interest of a few nearby solicitors. 'How much more time do you need? How much more time do you think you have? Do you have the faintest idea-?'

Ben took a formidable sip of his now-warm prosecco. Maria sighed.

'I can't deal with Downward Spiral Ben again,' she said.

'Neither can I,' Ben said.

'Just stick your fucking tongue down her fucking throat already.'

Ben said nothing. Maria threw her hands up in frustration and stalked back to a waiting Christine, who was standing a bit away, plucking self-consciously at her clingy twin set.

'You two all right?' Tessa said when she reappeared with a full serving tray, picking off canapes with delicately-tipped nails.

Ben tried to stymie his growing flush. 'Fine,' he said. He watched as she popped caviar-topped crispbread between her lips.

'So this-' Ben nodded toward the tray in Tessa's arm. 'The Rubens. Does that mean the diet's over?'

Now it was Tessa's turn to blush. It was an odd sort of expression. She didn't look embarrassed, or shamed, or at all erotically piqued by the implication of those words. Instead, she looked vaguely unhappy before taking a bite of smoked salmon sandwich.

'Sorry,' Ben said.

'No, it's fine,' Tessa answered. 'It's just…I don't even know what I want anymore.'

'Your Mum's dress…'

She sighed. 'Guy got his wish, I suppose.'

Ben frowned and picked a sandwich off the tray, congratulating himself for not hurling it across the room in anger.

'It's not right, though,' she said, hurriedly now, as though if it didn't come out now, it wouldn't come out at all. 'I'm not getting fat for him. I don't want to get fat for him. I want to gain weight for myself, because I like how it looks and feels. And I want to get fat for-' She stopped and finished the corner of her sandwich, then took another. She didn't finish that thought.

'He's done so much for me,' she said quietly instead. 'Everything with my mum, and us moving down here, and letting me get this job. It's only right that I'm giving things up for him now.'

'Sorry?' Ben said.

She didn't answer him. 'He's more in love with me than ever,' she carried on. 'We're closer than ever. We're moving soon, did I tell you that? To a three bedroom, near a good school. For the kids.' She let out a little sob. 'If I don't get too fat to have them first.'

Ben didn't know what to say. He couldn't even process the heavy barrage of information she'd just laid out in front of him like a concrete wall. Love, kids, fat. Three things he wanted. Three things Tessa would have with someone else.

'Ben,' Tessa said, voice choked, still tearful. 'I need to tell you something.'

The clinking of a glass echoed through the room, and everyone stopped, turned. Everton was bellowing something, standing up on a bench, a glass in his hand. Ready to make his speeches.

Ben swore at the distraction, and turned back toward Tessa, her name on his lips.

But she wasn't there. The cardigan, handbag, space for her were gone. The happy buzz in his head was gone.

Tessa was gone.

The only thing left of her was the tray, sat completely empty on a table nearby, and the last waning warmth of her hand.
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Old 09-24-2017, 09:24 PM   #39
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Yes! Nooo!!!
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Old 10-01-2017, 11:31 AM   #40
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Enjoyed it so far! Wonder how it continues...
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Old 10-10-2017, 04:26 PM   #41
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Lurkymcduck, I just want to let you know that I check back every day for updates. This is a great story. Hope to see more soon!
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