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Old 09-15-2014, 05:59 AM   #1
lurkymcduck
 
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Default The Warm-Up (BBW, WG, Edited)

Delurking to post something that's been rattling about in my head for a while.

A young widow mourns her loss the only way she can think of – with food and the company of her late husband’s best friend. To sum it up: Romance, BBW, ~BBW, ~~WG, small amount of mutual gain. Now with a new Chapter Eight and Epilogue



The Warm-Up
by lurkymcduck

Chapter One


The birdfeeder was empty, which was a bad sign. Weeds had started to overrun the garden, as well; an awful lot of it looked like shoot-offs from the mint he’d given her for her last birthday. It wasn’t dark yet, but in the house, the curtains were drawn against the daylight.

Bear knocked at the front door. No one answered.

“Niamh?” he called out, and pushed the door open into the front hall, sending a pile of unopened post fanning out across the parquet floor. “Niamh?” he called again.

“I’m in here,” a small voice said from the sitting room, and he sighed in relief. He found her on the sofa, dwarfed by a half-unbuttoned duvet and a haphazard pile of hardcover books. A sea of tissue swirled out from her feet, balls of paper tumbling over each other as they remained stranded, feet away from the overflowing wastebasket.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” Niamh sniffed. She shifted up with some difficulty, and Bear hoped she didn’t see him grimace. If it wasn’t for the thin-framed reading glasses and the thick black curls of hair that she’d tied up tight on top of her head (How many days ago? he wondered), he would have had trouble recognizing her. The former healthy fullness of her face was gone, the firm lines of her cheeks having inverted themselves into little hollows on either side of her jaw. The colour of her lips had disappeared beneath the spreading red of her nose, and bruises ringed the undersides of her bloodshot eyes.

“Your mum facebooked me,” he said. “Asked me to check in on you. I didn’t know she was going.”

“Dad was having trouble handling the farm by himself,” Niamh said. Her voice was raw, but at last she looked up at him and began to feebly push her pile of books to one side of the sofa in order to clear space. “She flew back yesterday morning. Are you staying?”

Bear considered that for a moment, and that slight, helpful glint to her expression, and said, “Yes.”

He cleared more of a hollow for himself on the couch, increasing the space that she had begun to make for him, piling the sodden volumes on the floor. Each book was carefully labelled as the property of Devon County Council: books on loss; books on widowhood; recovering after the death of a loved one; Grief and the Tender-Hearted. Who had picked these up for her? Her mother? He didn’t even think Niamh owned a library card.

“Sorry,” Niamh sniffed again and tossed another balled-up tissue at the basket (of course, missing).

“What for?” Bear asked, feeling useless and increasingly awkward as he sat there in his little spot on the sofa, books already encroaching on his oversized frame.

Niamh didn’t seem to know how to answer.

“No,” Bear sighed, getting up from the sofa. The books caved in to take his space. “I’m not going to sit here and do nothing. That would be pointless. How can I help you?”

“By sitting here and doing nothing with me,” Niamh answered.

Bear sighed.

“Far leave it from me to counsel someone on how to mourn the loss of their spouse,” Bear replied, “but I don’t think I’m going to help if I join you. Where are your bin bags?”

She hesitated. “Under the sink,” she replied at last.

At least she could move. She hovered like a grey raincloud near him, still wrapped in her duvet, as he searched the cupboard for the bin bags, and again as he wadded up the tissues in his great hands and stuffed them into the black plastic sack. She started to protest again as he unloaded and loaded the dishwasher (though only two side plates and a spoon sat in the sink) and asked her where the hoover was.

“No,” she said, “I really can handle this myself. Why don’t you go home? Caroline must be wondering where you are.”

“Caz is in Newcastle,” Bear replied, “and you are in need of company which I am more than happy to provide.” She looked startled, and he scrambled to add, “If you want.”

She toed idly at the kickboard below the kitchen cupboard. Her silver toenail polish was chipped. “Then why don’t we watch a film instead?” she asked.

He accepted, watching wistfully as she led him back to the sitting room, the duvet slipping from her narrow shoulders, revealing the painfully sharp points of her shoulders.

Niamh had always been athletic – at least, as long as Bear had known her (though she had once exclaimed that she had gone through a very stubborn chubby phase in school) – and had learned to make her living from it, having earned a strong following online for her fitness videos and healthy eating tips. He had checked her blog yesterday at work – the videos she had queued up to post before it happened still appeared as scheduled, but three days after Ger died, it had gone, and remained, silent.

She put on a DVD and he sat on the floor, easily distracting her as he held up each book in turn, asking her which, if any, she’d like him to take back to the library. He smiled when she added book ten of ten to the return pile and exclaimed, “Oh, bollocks, just take them all back!” but she did not have the heart to join him in a laugh.

Time, he reminded himself. This will take time. A lot of it.

He offered to make dinner, but again, she refused.

“When’s the last time you ate something proper?” he asked.

She shrugged her thin shoulders, and Bear immediately thought three weeks ago.

“Anything,” he said. “Takeaway. Whatever. I’ll buy.”

“You don’t have to-“

“I didn’t buy you anything for the funeral.”

Finally, a wan smile. “Those aren’t really things you buy people presents for.”

Bear wondered how many care baskets full of food had gone to waste.

“Well, they should be.” He extracted himself from the books and reached for his mobile phone on the coffee table. “Pizza, then. Thin crust?”

He watched her, his face growing inexplicably hot, and she looked at him with the most sincere and desperate of expressions, and said, “Stuffed.”

Last edited by agouderia; 12-30-2015 at 05:52 AM. Reason: adding tags
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Old 09-15-2014, 06:37 AM   #2
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Mods, could you please resize the text? Not sure why it came out so massive or bold. Thanks!
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Old 09-15-2014, 06:48 AM   #3
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I put the standard formatting on. For whatever reason, lost in the mists of time, the font of stories here gets set to 'size 4.' When I approved your story (new posters often get their posts flagged for moderator approval), I also edited in that formatting.
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Old 09-15-2014, 08:10 AM   #4
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Okay, thanks! It looks fine on my phone; it might be my browser doing something odd.

To anyone wondering: more will be coming soon!
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Old 09-15-2014, 03:58 PM   #5
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Lovely start!
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Old 09-16-2014, 01:33 AM   #6
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Default Chapter 2

Just a quick pronunciation guide for anyone who might be wondering:
Niamh (Irish), pronounced Neev
Bear - how it looks, short for Barry
Ger - rhymes with Bear, short for Gerald

Thanks for sticking with me thus far!


Chapter 2


Niamh woke up angry. She relished the feeling for a moment, so happy that it wasn’t blissful in ignorance, or despondence, despair. Only pure anger, the sort that made her clutch the pillows on the other side of the bed and throw them to the floor with a whispered, “Bugger off.

One of the worst clichés that she had read over and over about husbands dying is that after he was gone, she would still smell him. His scent in the bed sheets, his clothes in the laundry basket. She had been industrious the morning before she knew he was dead; she had been looking forward to showing him thedusted shelves when he returned home from work, and the empty basket, and the clear sink. Then they could have watched the new workout video she’d made, him hovering over her at the desk, proud, his hand cupping her pert breast.

He was gone, now. The bed linens only smelled of detergent. The clothes he had taken with him to work – both the ugly yellow Lycra he’d been wearing as he cycled or the suit and shoes that he had folded neatly into his paniers – had been either destroyed in the accident or lost in the annals of police evidence. His belongings from work (a framed photo from their wedding, another from their first mini-break together spent hiking in the Brecon Beacons, pens and pencils and a journal he’d stopped filling out when he bought his new smartphone – also destroyed) only smelled of metal with the faint dry scent of a solicitor’s office.

Niamh turned over in her bed, where the clock greeted her with the numbers eight-three-zero and the reminder that there were at least another twelve and a half hours in the day before she could bury herself back beneath the covers without feeling stupid. Usually, this bothered her.

Today, she was hungry.

She let the feeling take hold of her as she swung her legs slowly over the side of the bed, surprised that, this morning, she could also feel the pressure of the carpet against her feet. The slight ache in her calves as though she had just run a half marathon. Her stomach grumbled. She touched her navel. It dipped in further than she remembered, her middle finger going straight to the muscle without having to press very hard.

There was still pizza leftover in the fridge, but the grumble in her stomach was a comfort, a rumbling distraction, and she wanted to extend it as long as possible. She took a bath so hot it made her feel light-headed as she climbed to her feet, splashing water all across the tile floor. She weighed herself: 7 stone 11…49 kilos. She’d lost twelve pounds. She glanced in the mirror. All muscle, too, it looked like. No wonder she’d felt so ready to faint.

She put on the radio to the news, guiltily satisfied that there seemed to be other people in the world just as miserable as she was. Then she retrieved the pizza from the fridge – still half there, after her one slice and Bear’s apologetic three (though she was sure he had still gone home hungry), and stuck two pieces in the microwave.

Her mother had texted her at some point in the night: I sent Barry over. Has he been taking care of you? Are you okay? Have you rung the insurance yet?

Yes, Niamh texted back, and when she looked down at her plate to fork off another bite of pizza, she realized it had already gone.

She returned to the empty kitchen for another slice.

--

Bear returned that night with Chinese. Niamh even greeted him at the door with another, “Where’s Caroline?” to which he responded, “Still in Newcastle,” and held the plastic carrier bag aloft.

“Vegetables,” Niamh groaned, prying the lid off of the first tray.

“Bad?” Bear asked.

“Good,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything green in weeks.”

“It’s more of a brownish, really,” he said, sliding over the box of egg fried rice.

“It’s green under the sauce,” she replied. She stilled, a strange, guilty look on her face. “Ger hated Chinese,” she said softly.

Bear’s heart lurched. “I’m-“

“I suppose now’s my chance,” she sighed.

Bear didn’t reply, sure that the next word he uttered would send her into a downward spiral of tears. Instead, he retrieved the bag of fortune cookies and tossed one to her. She caught it deftly.

“This is for after dinner,” she said.

“I got four. One before, one after.”

She gave him another of her small smiles, and a strange feeling swelled in his chest. He waved her toward the sitting room and they collapsed together at the foot of the sofa, Niamh automatically flicking the telly to a bland evening soap on ITV.

“’You will be happy,’” Niamh said, tossing the fortune aside with a half-cough, half-laugh. She brought part of the cookie to her mouth. “Is it just me, or are these things becoming more vague? What does yours say?”

Bear cracked open his own. It was empty.

He swallowed, his mouth going dry, and the expression that met hers was carefully composed.
“Here,” she said. She kicked the little curl of paper toward him with her toe. “You can have mine.”

Bear couldn’t concentrate on the bad television, which she, for some reason, seemed to enjoy, so he found himself watching her instead. It was easier tonight; she’d abandoned the duvet and pyjamas for track suit bottoms that had fit her better before she lost so much weight; the drawstring was tied as tight as it would go, folding over some of the slack fabric around her hips. A formerly tight t-shirt hung loose from her collarbone.

But she was eating. He didn’t know if it was a victory he could claim, but he had apparently sparked something that her mother hadn’t even dreamed of when she’d sent him that message two days ago: Please get her to eat. I can barely talk her into taking sugar in her tea. Niamh had already nearly finished her full plate of rice and garlic vegetables, and hadn’t even complained once.

He asked her how her day had been. He asked her what she’d been doing. “I tried to blog,” she said, surprising him. “I don’t think I have it in me anymore.”

“Of course you do,” Bear had replied.

She disagreed. “I think perhaps that stage of my life is over. Time to move on to something else.”

Bear wondered what that something else was, but decided it was best not to ask.

Finally, the soap was over, as was the news, which she watched with the expression of someone witnessing a car crash. He urged her to open her second fortune cookie, but she proclaimed that she was full up and that she’d save it for tomorrow.

Bear tucked the leftovers in the fridge, surprised to find that the pizza box was gone.

“It’s getting late,” Niamh said when he returned to the sitting room. She was back in duvet-mode, the wool throw from the sofa draped about her shoulders. “What time do you have to be at work tomorrow?”

Bear looked at his mobile and groaned. “Eight-thirty. Bloody budget meeting.”

She followed him to the door. “Will I see you tomorrow night?”

This is a bad idea, Bear thought. A wedding portrait stared down at him from its place in the corridor, Ger’s thin, good-humoured face nearly leering in the low light, the grin suspicious. Bear wondered if that photo had been taken before or after the reception, before or after those small, otherwise insignificant seconds that Bear had leant across the table, drunk, and stage-whispered to Niamh, “If he ever gets hit by a bus, you know where to find me.”

Bear swallowed. “I have a rugby game,” he said, relieved for the excuse, then added without further thought, “Why don’t you come?”

“To your rugby game?” Niamh said, shrinking back against the wall.

Too much, Bear thought.

“If you want to leave the house,” he backpedalled. “I know it can be hard…

“Caz will be there,” he added. “She’s coming down for the weekend.”

Niamh frowned, apparently confused as to why Caz would be coming down only for the weekend when she and Bear lived together. For some odd reason, Bear did absolutely not want to remind her that Caz’s work had moved her to their northern office and that there was little chance of her ever, in any near future, moving back into their flat in town.

“She can pick you up, if you don’t want to drive,” Bear said.

Niamh hesitated. “Okay,” she said at last, and Bear felt himself break out into the most embarrassing and painful of smiles before leaving her with far too enthusiastic of a wave.
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Old 09-16-2014, 07:59 PM   #7
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I like where this is going! Love your style.
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Old 09-18-2014, 01:31 AM   #8
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Default Chapter Three

Thank you for your kind comments thus far!

--

Chapter 3

“Are you sure?” Caz’s voice was blurry on the other end of the phone, her words nearly swallowed up in the growl of traffic, and trying to sound rather posh since Niamh had accused her of picking up with a northern “hello.” “It’s no problem at all for me to come get you.”

“No, it’s okay.” Niamh was sitting on her bed, her phone propped open on speaker, surrounded by the wreckage of her cupboard and chest of drawers. Nothing fit. Clingy dress: too formal. Jeans: wouldn’t stay on. Back to the drawstring tracksuit bottoms and Ger’s Exeter University sweatshirt. “I need to do some shopping.”

“Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“I’m fine,” Niamh said. “It’s not as though I have to cycle.”

Niamh gave a short laugh and there was silence on the other end of the line, Caz not knowing whether or not she had meant to be funny. Niamh didn’t know either, to be fair.

“Okay,” Caz said. “I’ll see you there.”

“See you!” Niamh said, and rung off.

It wasn’t until Niamh was already in town that she realized that it was evening, on a Friday, and all of the clothing shops had shut. She ended up at the rugby pitch far too early, before most of the team had even arrived.

She made good friends with the kebab van man in the following half-hour; she didn’t mean to mention her dead husband, but when the game started, she found herself in the seats next to Caz with a hamburger and a box of chips that she’d secured for twenty-five percent off.

“I have to admit,” Niamh said, leaning close so Caz could actually hear her. “I have no idea what’s meant to happen. Elbow me if I’m cheering at the wrong bit, okay?”

“Asking the wrong person, I’m afraid,” Caz said with a guarded smile, her eyes flickering to the hamburger box splayed open in Niamh’s lap. “If it makes you feel better, Bear spent his entire first match trying to score on his own team.”

“What was he, six?”

“Five, but still. I find it boosts my own confidence.”

Niamh laughed. It hurt her ribs, but she didn’t care. The air was crisp, un-summer-like, and it was outside. How far had she ventured from her front door since the funeral? Her mam had done all the shopping for her (not as though she needed to do much, considering Niamh’s body had gone into survival mode, eating away at the fat and muscle she had left for the lack of food). She’d barely made it to the front hall to collect the post, and definitely hadn’t brought herself to open it. Even her computer had grown too heavy to pick up and set on her lap when she tried to summon the inspiration to write something.

Bear’s team scored a point and the crowd around her erupted, but Niamh stayed seated, weighed down by a sudden, crushing guilt. Was it too soon? It had been less than four weeks, and here she was, at a bloody rugby game. Surrounded by adrenaline, watching muscular men in little shorts running full-tilt across a field. Watching Bear in little shorts run full-tilt across a field. He was an amazing player, it seemed. Lost on club rugby, someone had told her when she had introduced herself as “Barry and Caz’s friend.” She supposed it was a departure from “Ger’s wife,” at least. Something new.

“Do you want anything? Something to drink?” Niamh asked, kicking her handbag out from beneath her seat.

Caz looked startled. Caz often looked startled – it was the natural shape of her brows: high, dark, and arching above her eyes on her round face – but there was something off about the smile. No one knows how to act around me anymore, Niamh thought.

“Ice cream?” Niamh offered.

“No, thank you, not to worry! I’m on a diet,” Caz said, and slipped her phone out of her jacket pocket, ignoring her.

Right, Niamh thought.

“Right!” Niamh said with a smile as she examined what else the kebab van had to offer. “May I have a bottle of Coke, please? And an ice cream?” She looked back at the stands, where Caz was still enthralled in her text messaging. “And a small Diet Coke for my friend.”

Niamh returned to the seats a few minutes later, where once again Caz stared at her, wide-eyed.

“What?” Niamh said.

“I’m just…” Caz paused, thinking. “…relieved. Bear told me that you hadn’t been eating.”

“I suppose I have him to thank,” Niamh said with a small smile.

There was something uneasy about Caz’s expression, but it flitted away immediately as the crowd once more exploded in a cheer, Caz most of all. Bear had done something good. Scored? She had no idea. But he was jumping up and down, two quick hops, and grinning. Looking like an idiot.

And for a moment, between jumps, she could have sworn that he looked straight at her -- her, with her bottle of coke and ice cream dripping down her fingers -- and smiled.

--

You’re so strong. Hugs xx

Keep going. You can do it. Time heals all wounds.

I’m so sorry. Take your time.

When are you posting a new video?


Niamh’s hands had been shaking when she uploaded her new blog post. She didn’t know what she was scared of. She knew people could be kind or unkind, stupid or brilliant, and a memoriam wasn’t going to do anything except skew those numbers further into her favour. Tragedy was an effective way of creating her own band of internet soldiers, she conjectured. A militia to defend her against the web’s trolls. She supposed she was usually lucky, in that regard, not often having to filter through the hurtful comments that inevitably cropped up when she posted anything at all online. Most of what she had deleted had been spam, and the rest, not at all helpful. Now, she had her followers even more on her side.

She wondered how many of them would stay, now that she was changing. Metamorphosing. She already had her following. She would lose some, she knew, as her blog transitioned from Pilates and squats to Bolognese and cheese sauce. But she also knew that she needed something in her life, something to do, and God, those food blogs she’d studied, watched, salivated over, had certainly been popular.

She’d come home the night of the rugby game with a boot full of groceries in orange plastic bags (another pang of guilt – she’d forgotten the hessian she kept stored in the back seat of the car). She’d nearly closed the supermarket down, wondering how she could arrange the ice cream and frozen meats so they would fit in her freezer, which she was starting to believe was far too small for the average person.

She had heard somewhere that you weren’t meant to shop hungry, but it wasn’t as if she hadn’t eaten enough at the game – she certainly hadn’t expected her stomach to by rumbling at she stalked the aisles of Sainsbury’s, looking for Oreos and Wagon Wheels on special offer. She’d emptied the reduced bin in the produce section. Raided the spices. Relieved them of block upon block of mild cheddar.

This is where the new me starts, Niamh wrote, and once more, clicked Post, sending the new Niamh out into the bright and frightening world.

Last edited by agouderia; 12-30-2015 at 05:54 AM. Reason: wrong word
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Old 09-18-2014, 10:06 AM   #9
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Default Chapter Four

Chapter 4

A week later Bear greeted her at the door with a bottle of wine, the only thing she’d let him bring to dinner, as she had promised to cook. He’d checked her blog that morning between a whirlwind of meetings and the droning of his boss on road repair figures, so he already knew what they were having: macaroni cheese, peas, thinly-sliced ham. I know I’m on an adventure, she had written, but cream-based foods are new for me. Give me time. I’m sure I’ll start delving into the exotic soon.

The dessert, however, was a surprise.

“I walked to the farm shop down the road,” she said as he stepped inside. She was beaming. Bear could feel himself reflecting her heat, the warm haze enveloping them both as he shucked his tie and jacket onto the coat hook. “They had strawberries and cream,” she said, “so I made trifle.”

She held the bowl out to him, still grinning broadly. Between her palms the glass bowl framed intricate swirls of sponge, cream, and fruit, delicate piping on the top swirling into an elegant spiral.

“Blimey,” Bear breathed, “that’s like saying, ‘I went to the art shop and got some oils, so I painted the Mona Lisa.”

She laughed, blushing. “I think I may have found my calling. Come. Eat.”

Bear obeyed, not able to help enjoying watching her walk into the sitting room, where she had already set up a picnic on the Persian rug. Bear had always enjoyed watching her walk – it was one of the few pleasures he had allowed himself after she and Ger had married (he still always felt guilty for taking that pleasure, mind). Last week, it had been painful to see, all those bones and sharp lines, acute angles. One week and the change was measurable. The hollows in her face had already filled back out, the lines of the tendons in her neck softer, her shoulders more rounded. Her waist less pinched. She was wearing jeans again, and they weren’t threatening to escape by sliding unbidden down her trim thighs. She still lacked the muscle that she had stored up in her years of training, but she must have already made quite some progress toward reaching her former weight.

“You look healthy,” Bear said, lowering himself with some difficultly to the ground, still sore from the previous night’s practice.

“I think,” Niamh said, lifting the lid off the macaroni cheese, “I feel healthy.” She set the lid aside and looked at up him, her eyes dark. “Is that horrible?”

“Nothing you do could be horrible,” Bear replied. He stiffened. That was a bit too soft, too intimate. He leant back against the sofa. “I appreciate this. I’ve been living off ready meal fish pie all week.”

“Ooh, fish pie.” Niamh smiled. “Tell me when you’ve stopped eating them and I’ll make you one you won’t have to microwave to death.”

He cracked open the wine and they ate, drank, ate some more. Found her calling, indeed. Bear could hardly keep himself from groaning in ecstasy when he had his first taste of pasta, and was soon sandwiching bits of it between his slices of ham, chasing it with fresh, hot, buttered peas.

“This is amazing,” he said, and Niamh beamed again.

“Save room for pudding,” she advised him, and started to pile seconds on her plate.

#

The weeks passed by so much easier than the first: on a rush of creamy curries and coconut ice, with pies and pastries and delicate petits fours to chase down a heavy roast. Most nights Niamh cooked only for herself, the boundaries of decency and the fact that Bear had a girlfriend to go home to meaning that he only came over once per week, and she often ended up cooking for two and eating her leftovers (without complaint) for lunch the following day.

Best of all, her blog’s new focus was a great success. That little idea had germinated when she studied her most-read posts, the posts that had raked in the most in advertising: recipes. The readers loved them. And that didn’t seem to have changed now that she had abandoned kale for curry and spinach for spaghetti Bolognese.

I just tried this recipe, and it is amazing, a commenter had said among the chorus of, This looks so good.

How many calories does this have? a few asked, to which Niamh’s chirpy response was: No idea!

She had stuck on one particular comment, chewing a hangnail, wondering whether or not she should delete it:

You’re going to get fat.

She considered texting Bear, asking for advice, then decided that was a stupid thing to do. Instead, she pressed Reply.

There are worse things to be, she typed. Like dead.

Last time she had checked, her post had twenty further replies, every single one agreeing with her.

But she had agonized over that post for one reason: she was getting fat.

Well, perhaps not fat-fat. Bear had called her healthy, but that had been weeks ago. She’d finally gone shopping for new clothes like she had planned, but instead of buying the next down, she had bypassed her old set straight to the size tens. She weighed herself the morning before she headed to the shops: ten stone even. 67 kilos. She was walking regularly, down to the farm shop, borrowing a neighbour’s dog so she wouldn’t feel so lonely when she fancied a stroll on the beach, but the fact was that this wasn’t muscle. Her body was remembering what it was like to be chubby and welcoming it back quickly and with a hurried openness; she could no longer button her old jeans, her breasts had started overflowing the cups of her bras, her pants were pinching above her hips, and her stomach, formerly a flat near non-entity, was beginning to make itself known as she sat at her computer Photoshopping dust specks out of photos of cheddar cheese scones.

And when she slept, she took up more room in the bed, no longer feeling too small for the frame, no longer waking up cold without Ger there to keep her warm as the night went on, silent and endless.

--

“Niamh?”

Niamh turned on the spot, startled from her in-depth study of the Christmas chocolate and the agonizing choice between Lindt and an imported Swiss she’d never heard of. She had nearly decided on both when the high, clear voice and click of heels jolted her out of her reverie.

“Susan!” Niamh exclaimed, clutching hard to the handle of her trolley. Susan looked genuinely delighted to see her – had she been at the funeral? Niamh couldn’t remember. To be fair, she could remember little of those first few weeks, the service least of all.

“How are you?” Susan asked.

Niamh responded with a polite, “Well, thank you,” and asked the same. She was doing well, Susan told her. Work was mad. Everyone was missing Ger, Susan most of all. The office felt empty and was falling terribly behind without him.

“I can imagine,” Niamh replied.

“Of course you can,” Susan replied with a genuine smile.

Niamh shifted her handbag, her cardigan falling away, and Susan’s smile dropped.

It was that: that little sharp intake of breath, the undercurrent of words that sounded like, Oh, God.

“What is it?” Niamh asked.

“I had no idea,” Susan said. “What can we do?”

Confused, Niamh followed Susan’s pointed glance to her midriff, where her rounded stomach gurgled, still digesting the full English that she’d treated herself to that morning; never go shopping on an empty stomach, she’d reminded herself, and her appetite had happily agreed.

“Oh,” Niamh said, reddening. “I’m not-“

If Niamh was red, Susan was purple. Petrified, she gathered her wire basket up in her arms like a shield, as though Niamh was about to pluck the Toblerone from her trolley and use her as a human dart board.

“I’m sorry-“ Susan began.

“It’s okay.” Niamh’s hand fell to her rounded stomach, sinking a good inch into the softness. “Easy mistake to make.”

“No, it’s just-“

“Bye, Susan,” Niamh said cheerily, and Susan clicked away, nearly crashing into a pensioner’s trolley full of cat food as she rounded the corner at speed and disappeared into the cheeses.

Niamh considered, right then, abandoning her full trolley in the middle of the aisle and running to her car, rushing home as fast as she could, burying herself in her duvet once more. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood there in the chocolate aisle for a moment, then returned the Lindt chocolate reindeer to sit with its identical brothers on the shelf. She made it through checkout with grunted replies and the most limited of conversation, her bleak mood startling the boy behind the till so much that he forgot to ask for her Nectar card. She’d forgotten it anyway. Then she loaded the boot with methodological slowness and drove home, not speeding once.

Finally, the groceries were away. The house was quiet, the television and radio off at the plug. She lay down on the sofa and undid the button of her jeans – size twelves, not long for this world – and ran her fingers from the red lines smiling beneath her navel, through the creases of flesh at her sides, up the swell of her waist, across the slight rounded dome of her stomach. How many times had she dreamed of doing this, only full of baby rather than fat? How long had she and Ger tried – eight months? A year? She didn’t know – she’d deleted the fertility calendar from her phone in one of those early fits of rage. It was hard to know, anyway, back then – she’d gone through pregnancy test after pregnancy test, not knowing if the missing period was due to the most wanted of causes or only because her body had decided that it wasn’t going to bleed that month, like it had so many months before.

She was new, now. A new body, a new stage of wanting. The rush of embarrassment that she had felt at Susan’s presumptions was gone, replaced with a strange, novel curiosity. The weight of her tummy between her hands, the flesh soft and yielding. The roundness of her breasts. The scale’s bright green numbers, telling her she was now the heaviest she had ever been: 11 stone 7, 73 kilos. A bit fat. Pleasantly plump. Lush, full, bursting with new flesh. In Gaelic: ramhar.

Somewhere near her head her phone rang. Once more startled out of her reverie, her strange worshipfulness of her new body, she picked up. It was Bear.

He was crying.

“Caz broke up with me,” he choked out.

“I’ll be right over,” Niamh told him, and with some difficulty, did up the button on her jeans, bundled into her car, and went to him.
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Old 09-20-2014, 12:23 AM   #10
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i'm really enjoying this, i love a story with a plot other than just WG. Wonder what's up between Caz & Bear ..?
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Old 09-20-2014, 12:45 PM   #11
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Just a note to say that this story was finished today and I'll be attempting to post a new chapter every few days - the next one should show up soon once the mods have had time to approve (mods, let me know if I need to re-post). Thanks again for sticking with me. More to come!
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Old 09-20-2014, 06:04 PM   #12
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Very much looking forward to the next chapters. thanks
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Old 09-21-2014, 05:42 PM   #13
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fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!fat hiker has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!
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Wonderful stuff. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I'm glad you explained about Bear's name - I was starting to read too much into it....
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Old 09-22-2014, 03:13 AM   #14
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Default Chapter Five

Chapter 5

“You brought food,” Bear sniffed. He looked hung over, his eyes bloodshot and his nose red, but he gave off no fumes, and the kitchen worktops were free of empties. In the car, she’d imagined bursting into the house like he had done to her months ago, ready to play saviour. But he lived in a flat, and instead, she was forced to wait on the front step until the intercom buzzed.

“Of course, I brought food,” Niamh replied. She shucked her ill-fitting jacket and scarf. “It’s what I do.”

“Stock cubes?” Bear asked, leaning back against the fridge.

“Chicken soup,” Niamh replied. “It’s good for healing.”

“Thank you,” Bear began, crossing his arms across his chest. If he hadn’t been wearing a sweatshirt – that defensive brand of clothing that Niamh had come to know so well – she would have been able to see the bulge of his biceps, the little swell of hard tummy over the muscle in his abdomen. “I’m not hungry, though,” he added.

Niamh paused, half-way through unloading a punnet of grapes.

“I don’t know what to do,” Niamh said. “The shoe’s on the other foot. And I’m rubbish at everything but cooking.”

“You’re not rubbish at anything,” Bear said. “Come into the lounge.” He turned. His knee cracked. She followed.

They sat on the sofa, two feet apart. Niamh was blushing, suddenly intensely aware how her stomach was bulging over the button of her jeans, desperate to break free. Swells of flesh bubbling up through her tight T-shirt from her bra. The sleeves too tight, straining across the shoulders.

She grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her chest.

“So…” Niamh began, turning toward him, splaying a knee across the centre cushion of the sofa. “What happened?” she asked at last.

Bear snorted.

“She met someone else,” he said, his voice breaking, cutting off half-way through the ‘else.’ “In Newcastle.”

“She’s still in Newcastle?” Niamh started, realizing how devoid the flat suddenly seemed of her things. It was very bachelor-esque, the Playstation in prime position by the television, controls freshly used. Rugby kit stewing on the floor in the corner. No tissues, though. He held that particular badge of cleanliness over her.

“Her work transferred her,” he said. “After Ger…”

“Oh.” Niamh realized he might have mentioned this, a long time ago. She must have not been listening. She had wondered why Caz had been spending so much time up north, only seeming to return for the odd weekend, Bonfire Night, and a week during half-term (during which Niamh hadn’t seen them at all). It was a long drive. France would have been closer. Thinking about it now, she was surprised Caz had returned as often as that.

“Of course,” Niamh said, feeling stupid. “Sorry.”

“She’s been cheating on me,” Bear said, his shoulders slumping forward, elbows on his knees as he folded into himself, his large form shrinking. Then he added, as though the two ideas were connected: “She went on a diet.”

“Oh…kay,” Niamh said carefully, hugging the pillow harder.

“I’m such an idiot,” Bear sniffed. “I should’ve-“

“No,” Niamh said, her face flaming, suddenly wishing that Caz was here, in this room. She wasn’t sure what she would do. A good kick in the arse, if Niamh could keep her balance. Take out an eye with the sharp corner of that Toblerone (if she hadn’t eaten it in the car on the way over). A good, energetic strangle. “You’re not an idiot.”

She’d discarded the pillow, her hand was on Bear’s shoulder, the space between them disappeared. He stiffened beneath her touch, head to one side, staring without focus at her unguarded lap.

She grabbed a hold of his arm, hugged him close.

“She’s the idiot,” Niamh murmured. “And I have no idea what else to say to make you feel better,” she added, still blushing. Bear was turning into her, as if to curl into her neck, his face still wet with tears. “Telling you what an awful person she is will just make you feel like you wasted your time, whilst…” She paused, thinking. “Perhaps it’s best to think of it as a warm-up for something better,” she said at last.

He was too big. She should have felt crowded sitting so close to him on the sofa; it was like trying to comfort…well, a bear, for lack of a better word.

“Maybe you’re right,” he admitted, the vibration of his voice making her skin tingle.

“I suppose-” Niamh began, then stopped short.

Bear’s hand was on her stomach, cradling the roundness there, lifting it in his hands. He cupped her belly with his palm, the warmth of it bleeding through her thin, stretched T-shirt.

Niamh made a small sound, and Bear withdrew his hand as if she’d slapped him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shifting back as far as he could against the arm of the sofa. “I shouldn’t-“

“Do it again,” Niamh said.

He looked at her, his mouth open, his pupils so wide they nearly lapped the edges of his dark blue irises. His palm edged forward by a few more hesitant inches until she grabbed it with her fingers and placed it back where she wanted it to go.

If had had done this months ago, he would have been able to span her entire waist with his palm. Not so, now. Now, her belly rested in his hand, smothering his fingers, her deepening navel beginning to fold over at its centre. She should have been embarrassed, she thought, but she wasn’t. She was suddenly aching, a feeling she hadn’t felt in so long growing between her thighs.

The other hand joined it and Niamh tilted her head back, her eyes closed, so she could only feel him, hear him. His hands on her belly (where her own hands had been just an hour ago), exploring the little crevices, the new stretch marks on her sides, the crease where it had started to hang over the zipper of her jeans.

She gasped as he took a roughened hold of a love-handle (aptly named, she thought - while she still could think) and finally, after what felt like years of building up to this point, slid his warm palm to her breast.

She was done for. She flung her arms about him, her legs about his waist. Her lips on his neck, his chin, anywhere she could reach before he found her, his teeth nipping at a lip, his tongue twisting with hers, his tears fresh and salty on her cheeks. She mourned the loss of his touch on her breast, her belly, but his hands had gone behind her, kneading the flesh of her bum through her tight jeans before edging beneath the band with his thumbs. As if they knew, as if they only wanted to help, the button came undone on its own, finally buckling beneath the pressure of her bloated stomach, the zipper sliding down so that she could breathe, groan, buck against the swell in Bear’s trousers.

She was flat on the sofa, beneath this beast of a man. His hands disappeared for a moment before there was another zip, another release of pressure. Then a finger insider her, sliding across a nerve that didn’t need any more coaxing to perform as it was willed. And as he entered her at last, his hands found her sides, and he squeezed.

--

After, Niamh cooked for him, not knowing what to say, hoping that the sound of the fan running over the hob would mask the sound of crying from the other room. She had stopped thinking at some point while it had happened. After the traitorous part of her reminded her that she had been wanting to do that for years. Years.

And here she was, cooking for him while he mourned the loss of Caroline – his girlfriend, her friend. She might as well move in now, she thought bitterfly. Ready to replace her, ready to fill every one of Bear’s holes in his life from the parts Caz had just ripped out, leaving only raw wounds and frayed edges

Fool, Niamh thought, tearing the chicken to pieces with one of Bear’s dull kitchen knives. Idiot. Opportunist. Her stomach grumbled. Glutton.

“The timer’s set,” Niamh told him. She was already in her jacket, her tummy straining at the buttons. She wound her scarf around her neck. “When it goes off the soup is ready.”

Bear shifted on the sofa. He had re-buttoned his trousers, was still huddling in his sweatshirt. For a fleeting moment Niamh wished she would have at least been able to see him naked. She scowled, her stomach turning.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she left him without another word.
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Old 09-22-2014, 06:46 AM   #15
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Sorry--the main library mod hasn't been on lately, and I'd not been checking the library for a bit. I haven't done any formatting or checking on these last couple, just done a quick approval. Feel free to send me a private message when you have a new one, in case I've been slow in checking for moderated messages. (I normally do much of my Dimensions stuff from my phone, but my old phone died and I haven't replaced it yet.... has thrown off my routine!)
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Old 09-22-2014, 05:23 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Sorry--the main library mod hasn't been on lately, and I'd not been checking the library for a bit. I haven't done any formatting or checking on these last couple, just done a quick approval. Feel free to send me a private message when you have a new one, in case I've been slow in checking for moderated messages. (I normally do much of my Dimensions stuff from my phone, but my old phone died and I haven't replaced it yet.... has thrown off my routine!)
Fantastic story, I'm particularly keen on the mutual gain slant the story has taken. Hope to see more soon!
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Old 09-23-2014, 12:16 AM   #17
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Default Chapter Six

Chapter Six


Christmas was coming, as if Niamh didn’t know. She was reminded every day: the incessant rotation of only six seasonal songs on the local radio, the sweep of red and gold foil in the chocolate aisle of the supermarket, the farm shop down the road clearing room on the produce shelves for mulled wine and Christmas puds, setting out leaflets for reserving her pick of this year’s fattened turkeys.

“Your bed is ready for you,” her mother had said on the phone at the beginning of the month. “Come over whenever you want.”

“I don’t know, Mam,” Niamh had sighed, “I think I might stay here.”

Her mother paused on the other end of the line. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Niamh stared out her bedroom window, where she could just see the white-blue of mist and water if she peered hard enough between the gaps of her neighbours’ houses.

“Mam,” Niamh said. “Everyone was really lovely at the funeral, but I can’t go through that again, okay? Everyone’s going to be really thoughtful and caring.” Except for the neighbours, who would come over on St Stephen’s Day drunk and red-faced and ease the tension by patting her tummy, commenting on her emerging roundness, just as they had when she was in college (and when she had been significantly smaller). “I just can’t deal with it,” Niamh added. “Not this year. Not yet.”

There was another pause. A sheep bleated in the background. Niamh could imagine her mother, thin and work-worn beneath tattered trousers and an oversized fisherman’s jumper, standing in the barn with a fork in one hand and her mobile in the other.

“Are you sure?” her mother asked.

“Yes,” Niamh said at last.

“Why don’t you spend it with Barry and Caz?” she asked just before Niamh had resolved to ring off. “I’m sure they’d love to have you round.”

“Yeah,” Niamh agreed, glad that her mother couldn’t see the colour of her face from a country away. “Maybe.”

That had been three weeks ago, and her mother hadn’t once tried to change her mind. She hadn’t heard from her except for a few text messages and e-mails – more nagging about the insurance – and one phone call when the inquest into Ger’s death had opened, then closed not long after. Open-and-shut, dead on impact, driver at fault, the end. Relief. Even Bear had texted her, asking if she wanted company at the hearing. She had texted back No, then decided that was too cold, and as an afterthought, sent him a : followed by a single smiling ).

Niamh had left Barry’s that fateful night confused, with sticky thighs and a deep sense of self-loathing. How could she do that to Bear? And Ger? And, she thought, taking a hold of the rolls at each side that Bear had fastened onto while they had sex, as if to give himself better leverage, how could I do this to myself?

She had dieted for one day, right before the inquest, and spent the entire afternoon in court with her stomach grumbling. The diet ended a quarter hour after the inquest let out, with a buffet lunch at the Chinese down the road from the courthouse.

Her blog traffic seemed to increase exponentially with every pound she gained. She was working through the old family recipes her mam had e-mailed her in November, going through bag upon bag of onions, potatoes, shank after shank of lamb. Improving on them, tweaking them, adding spices not so readily available in Ireland in the 1940s. It was her most popular series ever, almost every comment asking for more.

She obliged.

The size twelves were gone, replaced by increasingly snug fourteens. By the time the twenty-first came she had hidden the scale under the bathroom sink, stuffed it beneath bottles of cleaning solutions she used only once per year. She didn’t care anymore, she decided. She didn’t need to weigh herself, when increasing number seemed to carry her further from the girl she was in that photo taken in the Brecon Beacons, further from the person she used to be when she was married and in love.

You’re still in love, she thought once, the familiar traitorous thoughts returning in the second that she let them in, unbidden. She chased that idea away with a bag of crisps and several large swallows of sweet Belgian beer.

On that day, four days before Christmas, she found herself sitting in front of her computer, trying to ignore the feeling of her stomach edging out onto her lap (the old, faithful drawstring trousers today, pulling tight across her hips and slung low beneath her stomach, but still more comfortable than her jeans), the blank screen waiting patiently for her inspiration. She’d planned to post a pie recipe she’d tried the night before (she’d had to take down notes – her plans for saving some for when she wrote the post had been superseded by her desire to devour the entire thing in one sitting) – but instead, Little Drummer Boy was playing on the radio for the twentieth time, and the framed photo from Ger’s work desk was staring at her from beside her monitor.

For Christmas, she decided as she began to type, I don’t want to be alone.

--

It was almost as though she had been tricked, her subconscious manipulating both her words, and then Bear’s fingers into sending that text the morning after she updated her blog.

I’m heading down to Falmouth on Christmas Eve. Will be staying with parents until the 2nd. Do you want to come?

Then, immediately after that: There’s a very comfortable guest room.

Niamh went to the window of her bedroom, searching through the gaps in the houses, seeking out the sea. But there was only mist, her view limited to the blank brick fronts of semi-detached suburbia, the gardens gone fallow for the winter, the curtains still drawn against the cold.

Her fingers were shaking as she typed out her reply: Okay. Then, a few minutes later: What shall I cook?

--

The hug was decidedly awkward, when Bear showed up at her door. Neither of them had said a word about what happened that night, and, it seemed, neither of them would. Instead, he was the dutiful chaperone, helping her load heavy ceramic dishes into the boot of his car, wedging them between gifts and suitcases so they wouldn’t break or spill on the two hour drive down the coast. He even opened her door for her, closing it after she’d given him a shallow, unbalanced mock-curtsy and belted herself into the passenger’s seat.

By the time they left town, though, she was beginning to feel rather self-conscious. Perhaps the clothes were too much. She’d raided the leftovers of the department stores the previous day, trying to find new trousers and tops that would fit her. She had, and she did, but there was no disguising the fact that she was now – sitting strapped in like this with the belt looped beneath her rounded belly and dividing her enlarged breasts – going to look rather like she was going to burst out of her clothes no matter what she was wearing. It also didn’t help that the state of the roads had been ignored all year (Bear had apologised when he failed to avoid a cavernous pothole on a country road, as if he had been responsible – then she remembered his job, and supposed he was responsible – at least until they passed the county border), and with new winter cracks opening up in the paving, the ride was rather rough, the shocks in Bear’s old car shot, and her stomach taking every uneven surface in the road as its opportunity to jiggle its way out from beneath her clinging jumper.

It was all rather distracting, apparently even to Bear, who had handed her his coat as though urging her to cover herself up. She had smoothed it over her front, blushing hard and frightfully embarrassed.

She was still feeling shy when Bear let himself into his parents’ house, her tagging along behind, cradling a casserole in her arms.

“Barry boy!” erupted a gruff voice from the kitchen. Niamh followed after, already smiling as she unloaded her parcels onto the kitchen table. “And Niamh!” Bear’s father said, embracing her before she even had a chance to unloop a bag from her elbow. “So good to see you, my girl. It’s been too long.”

“It has,” Niamh agreed once he had released her, not even remembering the last time she had seen them, or at what sort of event that would have been. “How are you?”

“Can’t complain,” Bear’s father said. He gave a wink and a tweak of his bulbous nose, nudging her upper arm with his elbow in old-codger fashion. “Looks like Bear’s been treating you well.”

“Sorry?” Niamh said.

“I’ll get the rest of the things from the boot,” Bear volunteered, but was stopped by his mother blocking him in the kitchen doorway and wrapping her arms around him for a full two minutes. When she finally spotted Niamh, she looked plainly alarmed before breaking into a red-faced smile.

“Niamh,” she said, giving her a gentle hug. “How are you, darling?”

“I’m well,” Niamh said.

“Brave girl,” his mother replied. She patted Niamh’s cheek. “Did Ger’s parents not want you this year?”

“They’re in France,” Niamh replied, not knowing if that was true. They were usually in France. She and Ger had never been invited. “And I decided I wanted to stay in England for the holidays. Thank you so much for inviting me.”

“Our pleasure,” she said. “Bear’s been telling us all about your blog. He says you’ve become quite the accomplished chef.”

Niamh felt her face going hot. “I keep forgetting he reads it.”

Bear’s father winked at her again. Bugger, she thought. Maybe he reads it, too.

Still, at least no one has mentioned the fat.
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Old 09-23-2014, 02:24 AM   #18
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Very good story .
I saw that her starting weight was 49 kilos . What is her height ?

Kind regards , Carsten , Danmark
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Old 09-23-2014, 02:46 AM   #19
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Very good story .
I saw that her starting weight was 49 kilos . What is her height ?

Kind regards , Carsten , Danmark
Thank you!

As for height, I'm not going to mention it in the story, so I'd say it's up to you! But I imagine her to be about average (5'4"ish).
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Old 09-24-2014, 03:18 AM   #20
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Default Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Christmas came and went without either incident or disaster, and with little crying from either Bear or Niamh, which seemed to surprise the rest of the family greatly. Even surprising them more was that the two had been in the house for nearly a week and had still managed to keep to their separate rooms, with not a sound to be heard (no creaking in the corridor, no murmuring behind shut doors) after midnight. The two hadn’t exchanged presents – which Niamh supposed was a good thing, considering how the mint he’d given her for her birthday had completely overrun her front garden. And she had no idea what to buy him that wouldn’t seem either completely impersonal or terribly overfamiliar.

Niamh also found herself a firm favourite of Bear’s five-year-old nephew, who clung onto her as though she were his new mother. Jack had found her lap exceedingly comfortable, and would cuddle up to her softening stomach whenever the opportunity presented itself, often gazing up at her face, ready with a barrage of questions anytime there was the smallest gap in conversation (“We’ve been working on interrupting,” Bear’s sister Nancy had explained. “He hasn’t quite figured out the conversational pause.”).

“Why do you sound funny?” had been one of his first queries as soon as he had the chance to speak.

“Have you ever heard of Ireland?” Niamh asked, scooting back a bit so he wouldn’t slide from her lap. She locked her arms about his shoulders to secure him in place, and he didn’t even once threaten to squirm from her grip. “That’s where I’m from. We sound a bit different from you.”

“Isabelle’s mummy is from there,” Jack replied (“One of his nursery friends,” Nancy cut in). “But she doesn’t sound like you.”

“I’ve lived in England for a very long time,” Niamh told him. “So my accent is a bit confused.”

His little hand squashed her tummy once, taking temporary hold of her belly button, and she was terrified that he would blurt out, “Why is this so big?” in front of everyone, but Nancy was not the slimmest, either (though to be fair she had just had a baby), so she supposed that the boy must have been used to the softer form. She was grateful, though part of her thought that Bear’s father would have been quite ready to spring to her defence, judging by how much of Niamh’s cooking he’d been eating. “You’d know, my boy,” he might have told his grandson, if the question had come up, “if you’d been eating the dinners she’s made for you.”

Jack saved the best for last, though, the night of New Year’s Eve, just when Bear was trying to wrestle his nephew’s flailing arms into a winter coat for the walk home with his mother.

“Niamh,” Jack said as Niamh stood in the corridor in her leggings and long jumper, watching Bear trying to stuff Jack’s fist through an arm of his jacket.

“Yes, Jack?” she asked, already smiling, her chest honey-warm from the small voice saying her name.

“Why don’t you have a baby?”

Niamh froze, as did Bear, his eyes wide and frightened as they fixed on her face.

“Well…” Niamh began. Her toes curled into the carpet. “I just haven’t been very lucky, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Jack said, as if that explained it, and finally stuck his arm into the coat and let Bear pull the zipper all the way to his neck. “Uncle Bear,” the boy whinged, tugging at the collar. “You zipped it too tight.”

“My mistake,” Bear said dryly.

“Right, shoes on, Jack?” Nancy said as she hurried into the hall and fastened the baby into the pram, looking rather frazzled.

Jack held up one foot. “Bear tied the laces.”

“Smashing,” Nancy said. She kissed her brother on the cheek then leaned in to do likewise to Niamh. “See you in the morning, then?”

“What’s in the morning?” Niamh asked.

Uh oh. She didn’t like the conspiratorial look that brother and sister were sharing, those matching half-smiles.

“Don’t worry,” Nancy said, taking Jack’s mittened fingers in one hand and the handle of the pram in the other. Bear pulled open the front door. “I think I have a swimming costume in your size.”

“Sorry?” Niamh said.

“Bye, bye, bye!” Nancy said, with a matching high pitched, “Bye!” from Jack and a gurgle from the baby, and Bear shut the door after her.

“What?” Niamh said, and Bear turned on her, the doorknob still clutched in his hands behind his back.

He was trying not to smile.

--

“This is a bad idea,” Niamh said, picking her way across the rocks and sand, trying to keep her balance in Nancy’s too-large flip flops.

This is a bad idea, Bear thought, swallowing hard. At least the cold was on his side, keeping at bay any reaction he might have to seeing Niamh in one of Nancy’s old bikinis. That and the crowd, which had turned out on the beach in record numbers. Middle-aged Englanders, lumpy and pale in their swim things, for as far as the eye could see; chattering, laughing nervously, waiting for the whistle to sound.

“At least I’ll keep warmer this year,” Nancy was telling their parents as they trudged along behind them, her husband left fully clothed and hauling Jack and the baby along across the beach. “An extra layer to fight off the hypothermia.”

Bear saw Niamh’s hand fall to her bare, goosepimpled stomach, give it a gentle squeeze, then fall away, a look of satisfaction flitting across her face.

“Are you ready?” Bear asked her, toeing off his sandals as they reached the shoreline.

“Will I ever be?” Niamh asked, and she took a hold of his hand.

--

Niamh had felt the camaraderie from the moment she stepped on to the beach full of mad people. It wasn’t even five degrees out and she was surrounded by a multitude in their scanties, many of them even larger than her. Sixty-ish women bulging out of one-pieces, men with guts hanging over their shorts. Bear must have been one of the trimmest there, despite the wreckage he claimed Niamh had done to his figure with her cooking over the past week. “Whatever,” she had scoffed. “You’re still gorgeous.”

They had both gone quiet at that, but she could only look at him for another long moment, savouring the neat triangle of his torso and shoulders, the muscle in his arms, the healthy and well-fed padding to his skin, before disappearing into the kitchen to cook something else.

Now, she couldn’t help but appreciate the view whenever she had the opportunity. The light scattering of hair across his chest and shoulders, the freckles on his forearms, the trail running from his navel to the elastic of his shorts. Niamh shivered, but not from the cold.

Stop it, she reminded herself, and gave her stomach a punishing squeeze.

At least, in this crowd, she was no longer feeling so fat. Not even with her gut lipping over the bottoms of Nancy’s somewhat too-snug bikini, nor her breasts threatening to escape the confines of the top and ooze beneath her armpits. She had examined herself in the mirror when she dressed, at first mostly concerned with how on earth such little fabric would keep her warm, then soon after enraptured with just how much her body had changed. How her thighs now met, snuggling close half-way down to her knees. Love-handles bulging an inch over each side of her pant. The belly warm and soft and round, firm to touch beneath her breasts where it still refused to divide itself, even when sitting, soft at the bottom where it was beginning to hang, threatening to obscure a part of her she hadn’t been able to see without a mirror for a few months, now. The profile view was alarming, the soft crown of her stomach protruding a good few inches, nearly level with her breasts. Even her arms were wider, her neck flowing gracefully and near uninterrupted to her shoulders. Only her face was not much changed, though there was definitely a new plumpness to her cheeks, which, she thought, only served to make her look younger. She certainly felt younger, her body heralding a return of her mythological fertility, her period reappearing with triumph two months after the accident.

She felt…different. Not better…not really. What she had told Bear, about Caz being a warm-up, didn’t apply here. She had loved Ger. She had loved the person she was when she was with Ger.

And, strolling along the beach, freezing, Bear at her side, she loved the person she was now.

“Are you ready?” Bear asked her, smiling as he kicked his flip flops off into the sand, his brother-in-law rushing to pile their things into his efficient and well-organized beach bags.

She took Bear’s hand. His was hot, his palm sweating. She smiled. “Will I ever be?”

The whistles sounded, shrill and high, and the beachgoers descended like lemmings into the sea. Bear didn’t let go of her hand, not even when she shrieked as the water lapped and splashed to her most sensitive spots: ankles, knees, crotch, waist, breasts.

“Just go under!” Bear shouted, taking a hold of her shoulder as she laughed, high pitched and manic. “It will be over quicker!”

Nearby, his parents were emerging, dripping and shaking and laughing, flicking ice water onto everyone nearby.

“On three!” Niamh agreed. She drew close to him, floating up against his chest, one knee hooking around his leg.

“One,” she said, her eyes level with his chin. Her arms looped about his neck. “T-“

She didn’t get the chance to finish the word. They were under, everything bitter cold and clear and bright. It must have been a fraction of a second but it still felt like minutes, Bear’s hands on each side of her wide waist, holding firm, squeezing a bit, just like he had a month ago in the half-hour they never spoke of.

It was far too long before she was finally able to propel herself back to daylight. They both emerged from the surface, gasping for breath and having a hard time drawing in air. Bear’s hand still fastened to her waist, and he hauled her back to the shore.

“Bastard!” Niamh muttered once they found his family in a shivering huddle on the beach, clutching thermoses of tea and draped in towels and blankets. Nancy’s husband handed Niamh a towel and she tied it about her breasts, though it left a good gap of shivering stomach exposed. She wrung her hair into the sand.

Bear bowed, momentarily obscuring her view of his puckered flesh and hard, dark nipples. He grinned at her, his eyes never leaving her face.

“It’s easier,” he said, and he handed over his towel to her, waving off her sudden guilty protestations with a flick of his fingers. “Next year,” he said, grinning, “I think you’ll find yourself wanting to do it my way.”

--

The rest of the day continued in much the way that the previous week had: too much food, numerous hot drinks, hours spent huddled by the fire after a shower that, even when steaming, didn’t seem quite warm enough. They played games in the sitting room, splayed out on cushions on the short pile carpet, popcorn and chocolates and tea at hand. The cat knocked about the playing pieces of Settlers of Catan until they gave up and Bear’s parents bid them goodnight and wandered off to bed, expressing disappointment that they’d be packing the car and leaving the following morning.

“I hope you’ll consider joining us next Christmas,” Bear’s dad had told her as he gathered his book and reading glasses from the coffee table. “And not just because of the food.”

Soon, the door upstairs clicked closed, and Bear settled back against the sofa, Niamh finding quite a comfortable position with her head resting in the hollow of his arm, feeling more comfortable there than she had expected, glad that, after an entire day of wanting to, she finally felt confident enough to touch him.

The fire shuddered and Niamh gave her full stomach a squeeze through her jumper, watching the gentle rise and fall of her breathing.

“Bear?” she said.

“Hm?” he asked, his voice a rumble. In this position, her ear was against the flat of his ribs. She could hear his heart start beating faster.

He knew what she was about to say.

“Maybe we should talk,” she said. “About what happened?”

He stiffened, and with regret, and some marked difficulty, she hauled herself up to sit cross-legged, spinning toward him so the fire warmed her back and her belly spilled into her lap.

Bear drew his legs up, looping his arms about his knees.

“I’m sorry,” they both said at once, then fell into silence.

“About what?” Bear asked after an awkward pause.

“I took advantage of you,” Niamh said, her face growing hot, and not for the heat of the fire. “When you were heartbroken over Caz. I just waltzed right over-“

“When you were mourning the death of your husband,” Bear said. He scoffed. “And I jumped right into your knickers. How noble of me.”

“What?” Niamh said. “Is that what you think? It was my choice, Bear. I wanted-“

“I took advantage of you,” he said, mirroring her words, her expression of regret.

“No,” Niamh said. “I wasn’t the one huddled on the sofa, crying.”

“But you were before,” he said, looking rather embarrassed.

“Not that night. It’s been a hard year for you. Both Ger and Caz-”

“It’s not just that, it’s….” Bear stopped, looking away, eyes shining as they reflected the tiny white lights of the Christmas tree. “How you…look.”

Oh. Niamh scooted backward an inch, her hands each side of her bulging tummy. She’d undoubtedly gained even more weight over the holiday. A half a stone, at least; the size sixteens and a smallish eighteen that fit a week ago had been banished to the bottom of her suitcase. She hadn’t been brave enough to step onto his parents’ bathroom scales, worried that the number that would stare back at her would be otherworldly, stratospheric. Worried that she wouldn’t even be able to see it over the expanding horizon of her belly.

“If I’d known you cared,” Niamh said, her voice suddenly choked. “I wouldn’t have-“

No,” Bear said firmly, his hand finding her knee, his thumb sliding behind the joint. She shivered, as if he’d once more submerged her in icy ocean water. “It’s just…I made you this way.”

Niamh frowned.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“You’ve met Caz, haven’t you?” he said.

“Yes….” Niamh began, confused. The she realized. Pleasantly plump Caz. Always so sharply dressed that you never truly noticed the generous swell of her chest, the roundness of her face, the slight bump of her belly or wideness of her hips. She had always just been…Caz. Except when she spent the entire rugby game texting someone else, and refusing Niamh’s offer of something from the kebab van, the brusque I’m on a diet.

“Oh,” Niamh said.

“Yes,” Bear agreed.

“Don’t be a numpty,” Niamh replied, and Bear started. “You think you did this to me? Why? Because when I was sad and starving myself, you showed up and saved me from wasting away until I was dead?”

“Maybe a bit,” Bear relented.

“Well, you didn’t,” Niamh said, shifting up onto her knees. “I am my own person, and it was completely my idea. So don’t start thinking you can take credit for it.”

He smiled softly at that, though he still didn’t dare look at her.

“Bear,” she said again, softly now. “Is this too much for you?” She fingered the soft flesh about her navel, lifted half her belly in her palm, gave it a gentle shake.

Bear looked at her now. He was staring at her hands, transfixed.

“Bear?”

“Sorry?” he said, obviously not having heard her question.

She crept forward another inch and pulled her leggings down beneath her stomach. They snapped into place, her jumper creeping up so that her belly surged forward, so round and warm and soft, and settled heavily on her thighs. Niamh took Bear’s palm and pressed it to her middle, her fingers over his.

“Is it too much?” she asked again.

He licked his lips, and finally lifted his eyes to match her gaze.

“Niamh,” he said. His voice was ragged around the edges. He licked his lips again. “There’s no such thing as too much.”
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Old 09-24-2014, 04:14 AM   #21
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My iphone was at 2 percent and almost died reading this and IT WAS SO WORTH IT!!!
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Old 09-24-2014, 06:30 AM   #22
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Wow, the ending of that last chapter was just sizzling hot! Not that the whole story hasn't been good, but that ability to build erotic tension without addressing it directly is something special. Building to that last line....

Also, more please!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 09-24-2014, 01:44 PM   #23
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So many of my all time favorite stories are set in the UK.This one is So Well Written. Really enjoying it.
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Old 09-24-2014, 02:27 PM   #24
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holy shit this is a great story!!!
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Old 09-24-2014, 04:31 PM   #25
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Feel like the flood gates are about to open in the next installment!
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