Originally published May 26, 2016.
Contains: long-term weight gain.
What was supposed to be a bit of straightforward titillation ended up as a narrative-driven story with gaining as a major theme but not the only one. Story of my life, at this point. This took me way longer than I thought it would, but I’m happy with how it came out, and I hope it was worth the wait between “The Not-So-Thin Blue Line” and this one. (I actually finished this story before “Waste Not Want Not”, but this one got caught up when a friend of mine promised to proofread it and then ended up being super busy until today.)
Synopsis: Bill is an overworked and overweight accountant who, after suffering a nervous breakdown at work, goes on a three month vacation at the insistence of his boss. She also insists he go somewhere without cell phone reception, so he’s not tempted to try to work on his break, and suggests Camp Utanidi. Although hesitant at first, with the help of his charismatic cabinmate, Roy, and the friendly inhabitants of the camp, he starts to open up and relax. But with the dining hall being all-you-can-eat and all his new friends eating big every time they eat go together, Bill starts to worry he’s going to be doing more than one kind of personal growth on his vacation.
Bill parked his car in the lot outside of Camp Utanidi and grabbed his suitcase from the trunk. He was pensive about the months ahead of him, as camping wasn’t normally his idea of a good way to spend a vacation. But after he’d suffered a mental breakdown at work, his boss, Amy, had insisted he take a trip somewhere without cell phone reception, and Camp Utanidi was her first suggestion. In her own words, not only did he need a break from work, but he also needed to learn that the office will run just fine without him constantly overexerting himself.
She’d managed to finagle HR to grant Bill short-term disability, giving him a full twelve weeks off, and she’d paid for his stay on the company dollar. An almost-twelve-week stay seemed a bit much to Bill. But he clearly needed a break, it wasn’t going to cost him a dime, and he was still getting paid most of his salary, so he didn’t feel like he was in a position to say no. So he bid his coworkers farewell, packed his bags, and made his way out to Utanidi.
The camp was situated in an area that wasn’t as remote as Bill expected. The paved parking lot came off of a fairly established road, and there were even power lines leading into the camp site. Bill wondered if Amy’s info about the site not having any cell phone reception was out-of-date. But when he pulled out his phone, he saw that he indeed had zero bars. With a sigh, he turned it off and left it in a dashboard compartment in his car before heading in.
The reception cabin was a small building, with some chairs set by the walls and a bookshelf with more memorabilia than books. If the camp had offices, they clearly weren’t here. A young woman sat behind the desk on a computer that looked newer than Bill would have expected for an establishment like this, but older than any he would work on. She boredly spinned the scroll wheel on the mouse before she looked up and saw him and snapped to attention.
“Hi, are you checking in or out?”
“Can I have a name?”
“Bill. My, uh, my company’s name might be on the reservation instead of mine.”
“Oh yes,” she replied, in a tone of routine recollection. “Eleven-and-a-half weeks, right?”
“Yep.” After a few more clicks, she reached under the desk and pulled out a key labeled 14B. “Your roommate will be Roy.” Amy had failed to mention a roommate while trying to sell Bill on the trip. Maybe that’s what it took for her to be able to pay for this trip on the company dime. “He should be arriving today. He’s staying for twelve weeks, so you’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted. He’s a good guy, but if you have any irreconcilable issues, let us know and we’ll work something out.”
“You know him?”
“He’s a regular. Now,” she said as she handed Bill a pamphlet, “this will tell you everything you need to know, but as a brief run down: the week’s activity schedule is posted in the mess hall, where you can also find the bathrooms, showers, laundry, and a shop for clothes and any necessities you might have forgotten, run out of, or worn out. All our meals are served buffet style in the dining hall, all you can eat. There are maps all around in case you get lost. And though we’ve never had any bear attacks or anything like that, if you leave the grounds, you do so at your own risk.”
“A-alright, thank you–”
“And, if you need to make any phone calls or send any emails, you can do so here. There’s only one guest computer, though, so try to not make a habit of it.”
“Got it. My boss asked me to give her some occasional updates, so… I’ll be doing that.”
With her spiel finally done, the receptionist smiled and told Bill, “Enjoy your stay,” before turning back to the computer.
Leaving the cabin and turning behind it, Bill saw the paved parking lot turn into a wide dirt path. He picked up his suitcase to keep it from getting dirty and walked up to the main area. The mess hall and dining hall stood in front of him, with a giant fire pit surrounded by log benches in front of both. Checking a nearby map, he could see cabins 1 through 20 extend to the right off of the central area. The giant clock on top of the mess hall read 3:04, so he decided he’d get settled in before getting acquainted with the camp grounds.
The cabins in Bill’s row all looked like small houses, not the log cabins he’d imagined. There were no power lines running down the row, making Bill conclude he’d still be without electricity and running water. At least he didn’t have to worry about heating in the summer, though he didn’t relish the thought of being without AC. He could see windows on both sides of the cabins he passed, as well as in the front, so maybe he’d be lucky enough to get a breeze at night.
When Bill got to cabin 14, he caught his reflection in one of the front windows. He never considered himself the best looking guy, but he could see that years of overworking himself had been wearing on him. He had bags under his eyes that rested atop chubby cheeks, flanking a goatee that he’d been maintaining as a way to try to put forth an assertive, in-control image. His 2XL shirt bore the evidence of too many late nights spent eating delivery or take-out at the office and too many lunch breaks spent at his desk instead of going for a walk with his coworkers. He could even see his hairline starting to recede, something he’d hoped to put off until he was at least in his 40’s, not early 30’s. With a sigh, he unlocked the door and entered the cabin.
The inside of the cabin looked about as Bill expected it. He saw a table in the middle with two benches, a tacky rug, two dressers, and two beds, one on either side. There were no lights inside, but there was an oil lamp on the back wall. Looking closer, he saw a plaque that said, “If your lamp runs out of oil, please let us know instead of trying to refill it yourself.” He was thankful he’d brought a flashlight.
Bill put his suitcase down on top of the bed on the right and was in the middle of unpacking when he heard someone fumble with the lock, locking the door before unlocking it and entering. “Hey! You must be Bill!”
“And you must be Roy,” Bill replied, trying not to sound unfriendly even though he couldn’t match Roy’s enthusiasm.
Roy looked to be comfortably within his 20’s, and comfortably in the more-to-love category. His round face bore a close-shaven beard that connected with a mustache above it, framing an enthusiastic smile that matched his bright eyes. He looked to be about Bill’s weight, with his mass more centered around his midsection. His shirt fit snugly over a round belly that lead the way as he walked, like a band leader commanding a march. He strode ahead with as much confidence as someone being lead by a procession, stepping forward to the other bed to put his suitcase down before walking back to the center of the cabin to chat with Bill.
“So Bill, is this your first time at Utanidi?”
“What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
“…Well, we’re going to be roommates for three months, so why keep secrets, right?” After a hesitant nod from Roy, Bill continued, “I had a nervous breakdown at work not too long ago. I’d just been pushing myself too hard for too long, and my boss suggested… strongly… that I take some time off.”
Bill could see the enthusiasm fade from Roy’s face as he put on a more serious expression. “You must have had a lot of unused vacation saved up to take three months off. No wonder you were working yourself so hard.”
“Actually, my boss got me on short-term disability.”
“And she was the one who suggested I stay here. Get away from cell phone reception so I couldn’t even try to keep up with my work.”
“Your… boss suggested you stay here?”
“Why is that?”
Roy’s face relaxed from a pensive expression back to a warm one. “Most bosses I know would just tell you to take a day off, but it sounds like she really cares about you.”
Bill replied with a slow nod. “Admittedly, she treats me better than I treat myself, sometimes.”
“Well hey,” Roy said, taking on a softer tone of voice. “You’re on vacation, away from your work, and your schedule is entirely up to you. Let’s change that.”
Bill smiled and looked down towards his feet, not sure how to take this kindness from a relative stranger. “I’ll try.”
With a smile, Roy walked back to his side of the cabin. “After we both unpack, I’ll show you around the grounds.”
Roy and Bill walked all around Utanidi, with Roy showing him all the places of note: locations where different activities took place, parts of the woods around the campsite that were good for exploring, and a lake that made for good swimming, with several campers already taking a dip.
“Too bad I didn’t bring a swimsuit,” Bill told Roy with a chuckle, happy to have an excuse to not have to take his shirt off in front of anyone else.
“That’s alright, they sell them in the mess hall. You can even have them bill it to your cabin number, and hey, if you do, maybe your company will pay for it.”
The two of them made their way back to the mess hall, where Roy ended their tour by showing Bill all the amenities he could find there, starting with the activity board.
“Most Sundays, you’ll have to make your own fun, unless one of the other campers arranges something. But you can always find something to do the other days of the week,” Roy told Bill. And indeed, there was plenty to do–archery, yoga, walks through the woods, a class on identifying edibles and non-edibles in the forest–maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all, Bill thought. He didn’t spot any exercise classes, so he figured he wouldn’t be shedding that extra weight on this trip. But, he figured, if he was going to be spending this time relaxing, that seemed like a great reason to not worry about his extra heft. He told himself to just be careful to not overdo it at the dining hall and put on even more.
Roy took Bill through the shop to finish the tour. Indeed, there was a rather large clothing section, though the selection left something to be desired. There were long rows of plain-colored tee shirts in pastel colors, not even bearing the logo of the camp. The pants section featured jeans, cargo pants and shorts, swimming trunks… and that was it. But what the store lacked in variety of styles, it made up for in variety of sizes, with Roy seeing some shirts that went up to 8XL. There was also a window with a sign that read, “Trade ins”, and a smaller sign that read, “If you bought it from this store and it’s still in good condition, trade it in for another!”
Bill and Roy sat in two comfy chairs at the edge of the mess hall where they could see into the main area of the building. At one table sat a group of people playing cards. At another, a woman was braiding her friend’s hair into box braids as they laughed about something or other. At a far-away table, two guitar players were jamming out quietly on their acoustic six-strings.
“I figure we’ll stay here until they start serving dinner,” Roy proposed as they both settled into the chairs.
“When does dinner start?”
“Usually around 5:00, sometimes 4:30 on weekdays. The dining hall never stops serving food, but the good stuff comes out around dinnertime, plus breakfast and lunch, or brunch on Sunday, and midnight snack.”
“Are they 24 hours?”
“Technically yes, though you’ll rarely find anyone there between midnight snack and breakfast. They mostly use that time to clean up.”
Bill let out a combination of a chuckle and a sigh at the thought of it. “Boy, that poor night crew.”
“I wouldn’t feel bad for them,” Roy assured him. “I’ve gone in there in the wee hours of the morning before, and they’re always talking, laughing, having a good time. When someone comes in, they get to join in the fun. And since there are so few people, instead of having big trays of food out, they’ll make you whatever you want there and then. If you ever have a night you can’t sleep, it’s worth it to head over.”
“Well, I might take you up on that, because I’ve been having a lot of those lately.”
“Yeah? You think it’s work stress?”
“Probably,” Bill admitted as he sunk farther into his chair.
“What do you do for work, anyway?”
“I’m an accountant. Not the most glamorous work, but it pays nicely. What about you?”
“I’m a teacher,” Roy replied. “High school, math. Doesn’t exactly pay nicely, but my wife’s the real breadwinner anyway. She’s the reason I can afford to come here for three months at a time during summer break.”
“You do this every summer?”
“When I can’t find any students to tutor.”
“And she’s okay with you just up and leaving for three months?”
“Oh, she’ll be by to visit, don’t you worry.” Roy assured him. “You got anyone special at home?”
Bill shook his head side to side. “I guess I’m married to my work.”
“Sounds like a dysfunctional relationship to me.”
Bill side-eyed Roy, but he couldn’t exactly say he was wrong.
The two talked more of their lives back home until the analog clock on the wall read 5:00. Roy popped enthusiastically out of his chair and proclaimed, “Let’s go eat!” before leading Bill to the dining hall.
People were starting to filter into the dining hall as Roy and Bill entered, but Roy had managed to time their arrival before the crowds came by. Only a few people were moving along the buffet lines, so the two grabbed their trays and happily tagged along.
And what a sight that greeted Bill as he beheld the selection. Tray after tray piled high with a variety of entrées: rolls and butter, cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken fingers and fries, fish sticks, baked ziti (both vegetarian and non), grilled vegetables, burgers and hot dogs, several varieties of pizza… it was a lot for him to take in. Deciding to splurge on what was the first dinner of his break, he took a roll with butter, some baked ziti, and a healthy portion of grilled vegetables. He waited patiently as the people ahead of him seemed to be taking food from more stations than he did.
When Bill finally reached the end of the line, he was struck by just how many drink selections there were as well. There was a soda machine, a milkshake machine, dispensers for coffee and hot chocolate–a lot more machines than he expected to see on a campsite. He didn’t see any water, but thankfully the soda machine had a tab for water next to one spout, albeit an unlabeled one. Bill grabbed one of the rather large plastic cups and filled it with water, jumping back a bit when it spurted before filling his cup, as if that particular tab hadn’t been used in a long time.
Bill took a seat at one of the empty tables and waited for Roy to join him. When he did, Bill was a bit taken aback at how high Roy had stacked his two plates with food, along with several rolls he carried on the tray itself. But he didn’t give his roommate’s dinner much thought, unlike Roy.
“That’s all you’re getting?” Roy asked incredulously.
“Well hey, you do as you like, but it is all-you-can-eat. No need to go so moderate.”
“Mmm, maybe I’ll get something later if I’m still hungry.”
With a chuckle, Roy parroted “if” in a voice that managed to convey air quotes even though his hands were occupied as he put his tray down.
Conversation between the two remained light as Roy’s mouth was continuously preoccupied with scarfing down his dinner. Bill wondered if Roy had eaten anything that day, given how ravenously he ate. Mostly Roy asked Bill short, open-ended questions about himself between bites, giving Bill plenty to chew on so Roy had more time to chew his dinner without having to talk with his mouth full. All throughout, Bill was constantly amazed by the pace Roy could keep up as he ate, not slowing as he finished his first plate and barely relaxing his pace as he worked through his second.
In fact, Roy finished both plates as Bill was still finishing his vegetables. “Hold that thought,” Roy told him as, to Bill’s astonishment, he got up to get back in line for the buffet. He walked with a bit of a gait, his arms swinging at his sides a bit more than usual. Bill leaned back in his chair and finished his vegetables as Roy piled up another pair of plates with food.
As he looked around the dining hall, steadily filling up with people, Bill realized that his approach dinner was indeed the exception rather than the norm. The people sitting around him also seemed to have piled their plates high with food, though the ones who’d taken two plates were less common. Bill didn’t frequent buffets, often not having the time to eat at one long enough to make the price worth it, so he didn’t know if this was common practice at all-you-can-eat venues. With a shrug, he brought his tray, plate, and utensils up to the kitchen window and thanked the staff, getting back to his table around the time Roy did with another two plates of food.
“You’re already throwing in the towel?”
“Yeah,” Bill replied flatly, having given up on trying to convey to Roy that he thought Roy was the odd one out here, as clearly he wasn’t. Maybe this was just something the campers did on Sunday, given that the hall put out only two meals instead of the usual three.
“Well, if you decide you want more, don’t feel shy about getting another plate,” Roy encouraged as he sat down. They resumed the previous conversational dynamic as Bill talked more about himself, often worrying he was going on too long until Roy took a break from eating to ask Bill more questions about himself. As the meal wore on, Roy started talking more and sharing about himself too, as he also started slowing down on his food intake. Roy also sat up in his chair, leaning back more and more as he ate. It looked like Roy’s stomach had expanded since they arrived, but given how much he was eating, that didn’t surprise Bill at all.
After Roy finished the last bite on his fourth plate–a chicken finger he ate with a deliberateness showing just how full he was–he slowly pushed away from the table and looked at Bill with tired eyes, likely glazed over from how full he was. “I’m gonna go up for one more,” he said defiantly. “You sure you don’t want another helping of something? You seemed to like that pasta.”
Bill looked toward the buffet, where a gap in the people gave him a clear line of sight at the baked ziti. A new batch had just been put out, and he could see it steaming all the way from his table. “Alright. When in Rome,” he concluded with a smile. Bill stood up with no trouble, but Roy struggled to get out of his chair and had to push himself up off the back of it to stand. By now, his gut had taken on a presence of its own, pushing out in front of him and pushing his shirt up just enough that Bill could see the skin of Roy’s torso. Roy absentminded pulled his shirt down before turning toward the buffet. He had to lean backwards as he walked, looking like he needed help to stay upright. Bill followed close behind, ready to lend a helping hand if need be, and got in line with Roy.
As they moved through the line, Roy piled his plate up high, clearly ready to go out with a bang on this first dinner back. Bill kept it simple with just another portion of baked ziti, but as he passed the dessert table, the chocolate chip cookies looked too good to pass up. Looking around furtively, as if someone might judge him for it, he snatched one to put on his plate.
After Bill and Roy arrived back at their table, Roy sat down carefully before bouncing on his seat, his mouth open and his eyes half-closed. The two ate in relative silence, only occasionally speaking as they finished their final courses. Bill savored his second helping, while Roy pushed through his last plate like he was finishing it more out of principle than anything else.
Once they both finished, Roy leaned back in his chair with a long, pained sigh. He gently patted his swollen gut as he looked down with eyes and mouth half-open.
“I’ll bring the plates up,” Bill offered. Roy nodded and gave him a thumbs up. After Bill came back, he offered to help Roy stand up, an offer that Roy gladly took. Once Roy got his balance, he pivoted toward the exit and mumbled, “Let’s go back to the cabin. I want to nap before the bonfire.”
Roy nodded slowly before he started walking, arms swinging widely as he did so. “They do it every night after dinner, with plenty of supplies for s’mores. It’s a nice time to talk to people, and since we ate early, I can take a nice siesta before they start,” Roy said before letting out a small belch. Bill stepped ahead of him to open the door, and in doing so, he could see that Roy’s shirt had ridden up even higher, showing a solid stripe of skin underneath the bottom hem.
The two slowly made the walk back to their cabin, with a few people recognizing Roy and greeting him along the way. Roy returned their waves, seeming too tired to even say the word “Hey”. One man pointed to Roy’s belly as they passed and commended, “Good show, Roy!” to which Roy gave a thumbs up. As they neared the cabin, Roy started rubbing the top of his gut, letting out contented “Mmm”s as he did.
“I think I overdid it at dinner,” Roy admitted as they walked up to the cabin door.
“Been awhile since I could eat like that,” Roy huffed, sounding like he was short of breath. “Need to pace myself next time.” Once they were inside, Roy hobbled to his bed and lay down, falling face-up on the mattress with an audible thud. “You can see the fire pit from here, right?” he asked sleepily.
“Alright. They usually light the fire as it’s starting to get dark. Wake me up… if I’m not up by then…” Roy finished before he fell asleep. He started snoring almost immediately, a light rumbling coming out of his open mouth. His bulbous gut towered over his frame, defying gravity’s pull as it stood well above the rest of him. His shirt had ridden up even farther, exposing his belly button as his stomach rose and fell with the ebb and flow of his breath. Even his scraggly body hair looked like it was standing on end from how tight his skin was stretched.
With a shrug, Bill pocketed his key and left, deciding to walk off some of his dinner. He walked the rows of cabins and introduced himself to people when he came across them. As he wandered, he met a professional strongman with an accent he couldn’t quite pinpoint, a rotund man who claimed to work as a dancer, a woman who had just retired from modeling, and an endurance swimmer who was going to try to swim the English channel soon. Bill nearly lost himself in the conversations before he realized it was starting to get dark, and he cut through the rows of cabins to get back to his.
As Bill emerged into his row, he saw a revived Roy emerge from the front door and wave at him. “I was wondering where you were!” he called out. His shirt still rode high atop his belly, and he walked with a deliberateness belying how full he still was, but his spirits had been revived, and he greeted Bill with the same enthusiasm he had when they first met.
“Just wanted to go for a walk, but I made sure I was back here in time for the fire,” Bill replied, feeling a smile spread across his face. Roy’s enthusiasm was contagious.
“It’s probably going to be crowded tonight, since Sunday is when a lot of people arrive, so let’s get going,” Roy said, in spite of the fact that he was clearly in no position to insist on haste.
“Sure thing, let me just grab my flashlight.”
With a surprised chuckle, Bill answered, “So we can find our way back. It doesn’t look like there are any lights out here.”
Roy shook his head side to side. “Don’t worry about that. You can see better in the dark than you think.” When Bill looked at him with an expression of doubt, Roy continued, “And hey, you have me to lead you back.” That was enough encouragement for Bill, and the two of them meandered to the fire pit at Roy’s pace.
By the time the two arrived, the staff had just gotten the fire going and laid out the ingredients for s’mores, in a spread nearly as varied as the buffet at dinner. There were plain graham crackers as well as chocolate, cinnamon sugar, and other varieties Bill couldn’t recognize. There were marshmallows the size of golf balls, marshmallows the size of tennis balls, flavored marshmallows denoted by their distinct colors, and even Peeps. The variety of chocolate was similarly vast, with milk, dark, and white all represented, along with a variety of other bars marked by their labeled wrappers, and even chocolate candies like peanut butter cups. Milk chocolate dominated the spread, with regular and king-size bars present.
“Roy, hey! Good to see you!” a woman greeted the two, interrupting Bill’s musings. She was a middle aged woman who looked like she rode motorcycles, in spite of wearing a floral print top.
“Rose, hey! This is my friend, Bill.”
“Hey there,” Bill greeted as he shook Rose’s hand. After taking his hand for the shake, she extended her other arm outward for a hug. Normally Bill would have stuck with shaking the hand of someone he’d just met, but he accepted her offer and hugged her back, both of them pulling each other close.
“Is this your first stay at Utanidi, dear?”
“It is,” Bill confirmed.
“Well, welcome! You enjoy your stay!” she said before walking off to greet more people.
Roy and Bill smiled at each other, Roy with a smile like a proud parent seeing their child make friends on his first day of school. “Shall we get some s’mores?”
“Let’s,” Roy replied as they grabbed some giant skewers from the table and took their first set of ingredients.
Bill meeting Rose set the tone for the rest of the night, as Roy introduced him to more camp regulars and they got acquainted with new people too. Through it all, they moved back and forth between the fire and the table of ingredients, cooking up s’mores along with everyone else. At least, Bill did. Roy, still full from dinner, roasted an obligatory jumbo marshmallow before calling it a night, though he held onto his stick instead of throwing it in the fire. Spurred on by Roy’s example, Bill carried his stick with him too, and as long as he did, he was roasting more marshmallows and making more s’mores. It wasn’t until the end of the night, as the fire was dying down, people were sitting and chatting or filtering out, and Roy tossed his skewer in the fire, that Bill gave any thought to how much he’d eaten.
In fact, he’d completely lost track. The thick layer of built up melted marshmallow on his stick was the only clue to how many s’mores he’d made, and the answer, as best he could tell, was a lot. As Bill pondered his skewer, he became aware of a feeling of immense pressure inside of his stomach. Looking down, he could see his gut sticking out noticeably farther than it did before the fireside social. Pulling at his shirt with his free hand, he could feel his knuckles on his belly no matter how hard he pulled, meaning the shirt was long past being able to cover his stomach.
“Hey hey!” Roy enthused as turned to look at Bill. “I knew you had it in ya!” Roy patted the side of Bill’s stomach the way he might pat someone on the back. Though Bill hadn’t intended to eat that much at the campfire social, something about Roy’s encouragement made him feel satisfied, almost… proud? It was a strange sensation, but he figured it was a better one to focus on than the painful fullness of having eaten so much.
With a pained chuckle, Bill replied, “Thanks,” before dropping his skewer in the fire. “But I’m pretty beat. Why don’t we head back?”
“Sounds good. You wanna shower tonight or tomorrow morning?”
“Um…” Bill pondered, feeling himself start to sway from the mass of mallow and chocolate and graham in his gut. “Tomorrow,” he finally answered, thankful that he’d brought waterless toothbrush wipes and wouldn’t have to walk back to the mess hall to get ready for bed.
As they walked back, Roy strode confidently, clearly still feeling the weight of his dinner, but able move comfortably regardless. Bill was now the one slowing them down, swaying side-to-side as they walked and trying to force his eyes to stay open. He didn’t even notice how dark it was on their walk back; all he focused on was keeping up with Roy, who maintained a steady pace for Bill’s benefit.
When they finally got back to cabin 14, Roy turned the lamp on as Bill stumbled over to his bed. He’d already laid out his toiletries on top of his dresser, and was thankful he didn’t have to bend down to fish them out of his suitcase. His stomach would have certainly had something to say about that.
“I’m gonna go shower,” Roy told Bill after exchanging his sneakers for flip flops and grabbing his towel and soap. “You’ll be here, I trust?”
“Yep,” Bill mumbled, tiredly rubbing his teeth with the disposable cloth pad meant to replace a toothbrush. “Probably asleep.”
After a chuckle, Roy replied, “Alright, man. Sleep well. I’ll lock the door behind me.”
As his roommate left, Bill tossed the waterless brush into a bag he’d brought to serve as a trash bin in case the cabin didn’t have one. With Roy gone, Bill stripped down to his underwear. Standing nearly naked on his own in the cabin, he rubbed his distended gut one last time and found himself swaying back and forth along with the motions, mouth hanging half open as pleasant sensations he couldn’t quite name radiated out from under his hand. When he nearly fell forward, he shook his head and fell back into bed, leaving the lamp on for Roy to use when he got back. As he pulled the blankets up, he could feel the sheet run over his bulging belly, sticking out even as he lay down and gravity struggled to subdue it. Under the covers, he sleepily ran his hands across his stomach, the gyrations of his arms growing slower and slower until they finally fell to his side as he fell asleep.
(“new voicemail, Sunday, June 8th, 7:34 AM”)
“Hey Amy, it’s Bill. I, uh, I figured I’d call you instead of emailing you, so I’m not tempted to try to get work done, like you suggested. I hope things are still going fine over there… I, uh, I figure you’ll leave a message with the front desk if you really need me, so… I’ll assume that’s not the case.
“Anyway, things are, things are going pretty great here, actually. I got housed with a guy who’s a regular at this camp, and he’s been helping me feel right at home. It’s, uh, it’s honestly gone a lot better than expected, so… here’s looking up!”
Sunday brought a wave a particularly hot and humid air to Camp Utanidi. After brunch, where Roy enjoyed a large stack of pancakes and some eggs and sausage while Bill savored a half waffle with fresh berries, Roy became insistent that Bill join him for a swim in the lake.
“Oh, that’s alright. I didn’t even bring a bathing suit, remember? You go and have fun. I’ll find something else to do.”
“Like what, Bill, paper fan making?” he asked while making an exaggerated fanning gesture. “Whatever it is, I can guarantee you won’t find many other people to do it with.”
“I’ll just hang out in the mess hall or something. They have AC in there. I can grab a book from the cabin.”
“Mmhm. Why don’t we go in the mess hall first and test your little theory about AC?”
“Wha… Roy, I know they–”
But Roy had already started walking toward the mess hall and beckoning Bill to follow. With a frustrated sigh, Bill ran after him. He quickly closed the door behind him, lest he let out any of the luxurious cool air.
“I don’t know, let’s check over here.”
“Over wh–” Before Bill could ask his question, he was interrupted by the feeling Roy’s hand on his back, pushing him along towards… the shop?
“Why did you want to check over…”
Before Bill could finish asking, Roy had stepped in front of him and was pointing at the shelf of swimsuits.
“Look, Roy, I appreciate your encouragement, but really–”
“Really, you’re not going to find anything more fun to do on a day as hot as this. Now come on, I checked with the front desk and these will be covered by your company if you give them your cabin number.”
“What size are you? I think these drab blue and grey ones would suit you.”
At that, Bill was taken aback. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’ll have you know I think the orange and red is much more my style.”
“Oh yeah?” Roy asked with a sly grin, which was all the goading Bill needed. He strutted forward and pulled out a red and orange suit that was labeled with his size, before looking around the shop and turning meekly to Roy to ask, “Are there dressing rooms?”
Roy pointed toward a far corner of the store, where Bill retreated to try on his suit. “You should probably buy some flip flops too if those sneakers are the only footwear you have!” he called out.
“I brought sandals!” Bill shouted back, feeling almost proud to finally be one step ahead of Roy.
Bill closed the door to the dressing room and locked the latch. As he changed out of his pants and underwear, he pondered whether the brighter colors really did suit him better. Pulling the swim trunks up around his waist, he concluded that at the very least, they complemented his red shirt better than blue and grey would.
Bill put on his beat air of confidence as he stepped out to greet Roy again. Roy’s arms were crossed in front of a his chest, but upon seeing Bill, he pursed his lips into a smile and nodded. “Alright, you proved me wrong.” Bill’s confident smile, previously an affectation, grew wider as it became more genuine. “Now come on. Let’s go show everyone else.”
Bill was unsure about the suggestion at first, but if Roy just wanted him to show off his new swimsuit, maybe it would be fun after all. “Alright, let’s do it.”
“Keep the swimsuit on,” Roy told him as he turned toward the exit. “It’ll be easier that way.”
“Oh, but I have to pay for it.”
“14B, right?” the cashier shouted from near the entrance.
“Yes! How did…”
“I heard your friend’s little spiel about your company covering your trip. Not a lot of people here on the company dollar. You’re all set.”
“There we go,” Roy commented. “Now let’s go switch out your sneakers for sandals.”
Roy’s enthusiasm hastened the both of them as they walked back to their cabin to change. Roy had already worn his swimsuit in anticipation of the day’s activities, so they both just had to grab towels and swap out their footwear and they were on their way. With the pep in Roy’s step and Bill occasionally having to break out into a jog to keep up, they got to the lake in no time.
True to Roy’s word, it seemed everyone at camp was swimming at the lake. The shallower edge was especially crowded, but plenty of people were floating out in the middle too. The shore was lined with towels and various footwear and tops abandoned by those swimming.
Roy was quite eager to join them. He stepped out of his sandals and placed his towel on top of them. Without hesitation, his shirt came off next and joined the pile. Roy’s stomach was nearly as tan as the rest of him, a stark contrast to the farmer’s tan Bill was hiding under his shirt. Even without the support of his shirt, Roy’s gut was still shapely and round, standing out as boldly and proudly as Roy himself.
It was a kind of attitude the self-conscious Bill had never considered as a possibility, but he couldn’t consider it for long. After giving Bill a happy look, Roy motioned toward the water and said, “Come on!” before running in. The lakebed must have been steep, for Roy got waist-deep without walking out too far ahead of Bill. It was then that he stopped and turned around, looking expectantly at Bill. “Come on in! The water’s great!”
“Y… you said we were just going to show off this bathing suit.”
“Sure,” Roy conceded, needing to talk fairly loudly to be sure Bill could hear him. “But you don’t model a bathing suit with your shirt on. Come on! Nothing in here’s gonna bite you.”
“I-I’d really rather not.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Bill shouted, starting to get indignant, “but I’m not exactly the skinniest of guys.”
“Is that all?” Roy asked with a smirk and a snort. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re far from the fattest, too.”
In fact, Roy had noticed. There were a number of rather large campers at Utanidi with him, and while he was on the bigger end of the spectrum at work, here he was closer to the average It had been a nice change of pace from feeling like he was constantly standing out for his size, but it hadn’t made him any more comfortable with the idea of taking his shirt off around anyone else.
If anything, he felt less comfortable. Seeing all these confident fat people wading out, swimming, having a good time without a care in the world made him feel self-conscious about his self-consciousness. How could he fit in among all their confident selves if he felt this timid about taking off his shirt?
Roy must have been able to tell Bill was talking himself into all sorts of reasons why he shouldn’t do it, because he waded closer while threatening, “Don’t make me splash you to make you come in.”
Bill stepped back from the lake, arms hunched up in front of his chest. “That’s not cool, Roy.”
“Yeah, you’re right. So what’ll it take to convince you?”
“I don’t want to be convinced!”
“Why don’t you swim with your shirt on? That you might be comfortable with.”
Bill briefly considered it, but the thought of walking around in a soggy shirt after swimming wasn’t an appealing one. He shook his head side to side, prompting a sigh out of Roy. With an exaggerated eye roll, Roy leaned back and let himself fall in the lake. He came to a floating position, his chest dipping into the water before his belly jutted out like a wet, hairy island. Listlessly, he swimmed away from the shore, seemingly having given up on getting Bill to join him.
Bill felt like he should have been relieved, now that Roy wasn’t pressuring him to swim, But given that he was the only one on the shore, the thought of staying where he was wasn’t a very appealing one. If his reason for coming down was to show off his swimsuit, why stay where no one would see it? With a defeated sigh, he scooched off his sandals, put his own towel on them, and slowly pulled up his shirt. Looking down, Bill could see the pasty skin his shirt had been hiding. He held his shirt in his arms, huddled up against his chest, and looked out over the lake.
But nothing had changed. Everyone still went about swimming and enjoying themselves. No one stared at Bill or even looked his way. Letting his arms down with a sense of relief, he dropped his shirt on his towel and waded out in the water. As expected, the lakebed proved quite steep. He treaded carefully to avoid losing his balance, but steadily made his way in.
That was, until he felt the water lap up against his stomach. He let out a yelp and jumped back, standing on his toes to try to distance himself from the cold surface.
“It’s the stomach that gets you,” Bill heard a woman’s voice say from his right. Looking over, he saw Rose, wearing a bright red two-piece bathing suit that let her ample stomach hang out. Bill was amazed it could contain her breasts, on which he could now see a tattoo of a skull with thorny vines creeping in and out of it. “You expect it to be your naughty bits, but nope, it’s your belly.”
With a nod, Bill added, “It’s not used to being out and exposed like this.”
“Oh even if it were, you’d still feel it. You just learn to expect it.” With a graceful hop, she sank down into the water and bent out her legs so she could float. “So how are you liking Utanidi, Bill?”
“It’s, uh, it’s been an adjustment. I’m so used to constantly checking in with work and always being available, and to come out here where I can really disconnect… it’s nice, really.”
“That it is,” she agreed. “I’ll usually drive back home once a weekend to visit the folks, but I try to spend as much time as I can here, away from it all. Focus on… personal growth, you know?” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, I, uh… I think I’m going to end up doing a lot of that here.”
“Well, you picked a great place for it.”
“Actually, my boss suggested it.”
“Did they?” Rose asked with a quizzical look.
“Yeah…” Bill replied, not sure why this was so unbelievable.
“Hey!” he heard Roy call out from deeper in the lake. Turning around, Bill saw Roy swim closer before his feet hit the lakebed and he started walking. “You came in after all!”
“Yeah, well… I figured it was better than staying on the shore on my own.”
“Or reading in the mess hall?”
Bill had in fact forgotten that was his original plan. “Too late for that now, I guess.”
“You wanna come out with some of the other folks? Or or do you prefer the shallow end?”
“Um, well, there is one… obstacle to that.”
“He doesn’t want to get his poor tummy cold,” Rose chimed in.
“Mmm. You know, the best way to get beyond that is honestly to just dunk, shiver it off for a while, and then you’ll be good to go. Just deal with the cold all at once.”
Bill looked suspiciously down at the water, unsure about Roy’s advice, but going slow and steady clearly wasn’t going to work, so maybe it was worth a try. With a deep gasp, he hopped up and let his legs bend underneath him, dipping into the water until he was submerged up to his chest..
The shock of the cold hitting him all at once felt numbing for an instant, but the chill hit him soon after. With a gasp, he ascended from the lake, water splashing around him, much to Roy and Rose’s amusement. “Jesus!” he yelped, before crossing his arms over his chest and shivering. If blubber was supposed to help marine mammals handle the colder temperatures of water, Bill thought, then he must not have had enough of it.
“Better?” Roy asked through a giggle. Bill merely glared at him before letting out a heavy exhalation. “Hey, next time you go in, it won’t be so bad. Trust me.”
“I don’t think it c-can’t get much worse than that,” Bill replied in stilted syllables.
“Try again,” Roy encouraged, dipping back down into the water like some kind of show of solidarity. With a long exhalation, Bill sank back down slowly. Indeed, the water didn’t seem too cold, but that was because he was already cold before he submerged. He waded in the water for a moment before ascending above the surface again, disappointed to find he didn’t feel much warmer.
“See? You’re getting there.”
Bill let out a huff at Roy as he stood above the lake’s surface with arms crossed, but Roy was more right than Bill knew. On his third dip, Bill found it bearable to stay chest-deep in the water, though not exactly comfortable. That came with time, time he spent chatting with Roy and Rose before his mood improved visibly enough that Roy suggested they swim out to the center.
“I’m going to call it a day, actually,” Rose said. “I need to go grab some lunch. You boys have fun.” With that, Rose stepped out of the water as Roy and Bill swam off to mingle with the other campers.
Roy and Bill spent the better part of the afternoon that way, mingling with the other swimmers before traveling back to shore to take a rest, then swimming out again. Whereas Bill had previously not wanted to get in the water, now he didn’t want to get out and feel the cold air on his wet body, So the two sat in the shallow end of the lake when they needed a rest, before swimming out again.
It wasn’t until other guests started heading out for dinner that Bill and Roy followed suit, laughing about how pruny their fingers had become. Both men had quite a lot of body to dry off, but the previously self-conscious Bill now stood comfortably next to Roy with his pudgy torso in all its glory, giving way under the pressure of his hands as he dried off. Once the chill of their wet skin had been overridden by the hot air, neither of them felt inclined to put their shirts back on, instead walking back with their towels draped over their shoulders and their shirts in hand.
“See? Aren’t you glad to came out to swim after all.”
Bill initially looked down at the ground, but a smile crept across his face before he looked at Roy and nodded.
“And you were worried about showing this off,” Roy teased as he patted Bill’s stomach, the way Bill might pat a male relative’s back when they hugged. Bill felt self-conscious about it at first, but it was hard to keep feeling that way when someone like Roy clearly didn’t see Bill’s heft as a negative. “You don’t have to suck it in, you know.”
Roy playfully rolled his eyes before looking back at Bill. “You’re clearly sucking your belly in. And you don’t have to. It’s okay for you to relax.”
Bill hadn’t noticed it before, probably because he was so used to trying to appear slimmer than he was. But he could indeed feel a tension in his stomach, one he wasn’t quite sure how to let go. Slowing down his pace a bit, he tried pushing out his stomach, hoping to cancel out the tension in his abdominals. In the end, he relaxed into a slouching position.
“No, not like that!” Roy chided. “Stand tall, stand proud! Bend back and let your gut lead the way!”
Though exasperated, Bill still did as Roy instructed, straightening out his back and pushing his chest up. In this position, he couldn’t easily hold in his stomach, making him think this what Roy was going for.
“See? Doesn’t that feel better?”
It felt unnatural at first. But as Bill got used to it, he found his arms swinging casually back and forth, and holding his head high came easy to him. Even when he tripped on a rock because he wasn’t looking down like he usually did, it didn’t break his spirit. “Yeah, yeah it does feel better.” And he really meant it, even as his stomach swayed in front of him more than he was used to.
Roy patted him on the back the way he’d patted him on the stomach before. “There ya go. Come on, let’s get cleaned up and go eat!”
(“new voicemail, Sunday, June 22nd, 9:48 AM”)
“Amy! Hey, it’s Bill. I got your note from the front desk, and I’m happy to say things are still going great here. You were right: getting away from it all really was the best choice for me. I feel like a whole different person. I just hope it sticks.
“Hey, can you do me a favor? Let me know if it’s okay for me to come back with a full beard. I’ve been letting it grow out instead of keeping it to the goatee, and I think I’m liking it. Anyway, you have a good day. I’ll be in touch.”
Bill stood outside the cabin, staring at his reflection in the window with a pair of scissors in hand. Having taken the opportunity to let his facial hair grow out, he was quite happy with his fuller beard, but he didn’t want to go full wild man. So for now, he trimmed it as best he could, promising himself he’d look into more proper beard care once he got home. After all, Roy’s wife was finally coming to visit, and he didn’t want to look unpresentable.
Roy and Bill were both loitering in their cabin when they heard a knock on the door. Roy hopped excitedly off of his bed and approached the door with a step that nearly resembled a skip. After swinging it open, he shouted out, “Claud!”
“Roy!” Bill could hear the woman shout, before she threw her arms around Roy and he lifted her up in a hug.
“Oh I missed you!” Roy exclaimed like he hadn’t seen her in months, even though it had only been a few weeks since Roy arrived. When he finally let her down and led her into the cabin, Bill beheld a slender woman with long, curly brown hair and sharp features, wearing an orange tank top on top of khaki capris. “Bill, this is my wife Claudia. Claud, my roommate Bill.”
“So nice to meet you, Bill,” she greeted as she extended her hand.
Hopping off the bed, Bill shook her hand and replied, “You as well.”
“Roy told me your company sponsored your trip here?”
Bill looked behind her at Roy, not sure if he’d told her about the nervous break down too. Roy’s smile had faded, but he looked at Bill with raised eyebrows and nodded, like he was encouraging Bill to go along with it.
“Uh, yes, they did.”
“So do you work for Google or something? Must be one of those top 100 best companies to work for.”
It seemed Roy hadn’t told her the whole story, something Bill was relieved to find out. “I wouldn’t say that, but I might have one of the top 100 best bosses to work for. She’s the one who really made this happen for me.”
“Hmm, sounds like you have quite the admirer.”
“Uh…” Bill hadn’t considered it, but maybe Claudia had a point. If Amy didn’t value him as an employee, she wouldn’t have worried this much about his well-being, or invested so many company resources to ensure he could have a relaxing time off. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Roy pulled Claudia in close before wrapping his arm around her shoulder. “It’s nice to have one of those.” The two exchanged smiles before Roy turned back to Bill. “Anyway, we were planning on grabbing dinner on our own. I hope you don’t mind, Bill.”
Shaking his head side to side, Bill assured them, “Not at all. You two have fun.”
The two left not long after that, while Bill stayed behind to read a bit more before he went off for dinner. As he entered the dining hall, he found it modestly full, and got in line to grab dinner. He took a plate of chicken fingers and fries, a cheeseburger, and a Caesar salad, while grabbing an orange soda from the fountain. Looking out over the cafeteria, he wasn’t sure where he should sit, until he saw Rose waving at him from a table with a few other people..
“Hey, Bill!” she greeted as he approached. “Why don’t you join us?”
“I don’t know if you’re already acquainted, but everyone, this is Bill. Bill, this is everyone,” she said to modest laughter from everyone seated, numbering seven in total now that Bill had joined them.
“Nice to meet you, Bill,” said another diner in a soft voice. He had a long, black, scraggly beard and wore a leather vest on top of a white tank top, exactly the kind of company Rose looked like she would keep. “This your first time at Utanidi?”
“That it is.”
“How did you find out about it?” the gentle-voiced biker asked as conversation resumed elsewhere around the table.
“My boss recommended it. She suggested I go somewhere with no cell phone reception, to really take a break from my job.”
“Hmm, well, that’s one reason to come here,” he remarked before eating a forkful of lasagna. “You liking it?”
Bill nodded and gave an affirmative “Mmm” through a mouth full of cheeseburger. “A lot. I might come back next time I take a vacation.”
“Yeah, this place definitely sticks with ya.”
“That’s the goal, anyway,” joked another camper sitting at the table, to which the others laughed and agreed.
It wasn’t long before Bill joined the flow of the conversation, and he was chatting like a regular. Though he had arrived later than the other diners, they had all gotten more food than he did, so they all finished around the same time. “Round two, folks?” one of them asked as she stood up. The others all agreed and got up to get back in line.
As Bill walked with the group to the end of the buffet, he spotted Roy and Claudia at a two-person table toward the edge of the cafeteria. It looked like she had long ago finished her plate, and was now leaning over towards Roy with a sly smile. Bill couldn’t hear their conversation, but as he walked, he could see that Roy had a satisfied grin and was eating his food slowly, deliberately. It was reminiscent of their first dinner together.
Bill favored the Italian dishes his second time through, grabbing some baked ziti, some meatballs, and two pieces of garlic bread. His cohorts all piled their plates higher than he did, but none of them seemed to notice his more modest portions the way Roy had, at which Bill felt a small amount of relief.
The second course passed much like the first, Bill chatting with the other campers as they all enjoyed their meals. When one suggested going up for thirds, Bill bowed out and told them he was tired and was going to go back to his cabin. They all bid him farewell, the new faces telling him it was nice to meet him, and Bill made his exit. As he left, he looked over to Roy and Claudia and saw a satisfied smile on the Claudia’s face, while Roy was leaned back in his chair. As he passed them, he could see that Roy’s shirt had ridden up and he was rubbing his stomach, with a tired expression on his face.
Seems he overdid it again, thought Bill. But why was she smiling? It’s not like it’s her cooking he overindulged on. Bill gave it a mental shrug and walked out to make his way back to the cabin.
Bill didn’t have to wonder long. Not long after he sat down to read some more of his book while there was still daylight, he heard the cabin door open and looked up to see Claudia helping Roy walk in, his arm slung over her shoulders like he was drunk. He groaned as she lead him to his bed, reassuring him, “There, there, you can sleep now.”
“But you only just got here,” Roy mumbled in complaint.
“Well, I don’t have to go yet,” she said sultrily, letting her hands wander down his torso and around his belly, making their way up into his shirt, letting out an, “Mmm,” as she did so.
“Should I leave you two alone?” Bill asked, startling both of them.
“Bill!” Claudia yelped. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you were here.”
“All good,” he assured them as he put a bookmark in his book and got up. “I’ll go read in the mess hall. It’ll be better lit in there anyway.”
“Hey, man…” Roy slurred. “Don’t feel… like you have to–”
“I don’t,” Bill interjected with a smile, before grabbing his key and stepping out the door. The sun still hung well above the horizon, and Bill could see that he would have had plenty of time to read before he had to resort to the dim illumination of lamp light. But he could read anywhere on the campgrounds, something that clearly wasn’t true for whatever Roy and Claudia had in mind.
As Bill walked into the main seating area of the mess hall, he saw numerous tables already occupied, much more than his first time in there. Maybe the hotter weather was driving more people inside when they’d already expended swimming as the obvious way to spend a Sunday. Thankfully, the din of people talking was relatively subdued, so Bill took one of the comfy chairs and resumed reading.
Bill didn’t keep track of time, not having anywhere to be for the rest of the night (only a place to not be), but it didn’t feel like he was reading for very long before he heard a familiar voice say, “Hey, Bill.”
Looking over his book, Bill saw an embarrassed Claudia looking back at him, with no sign of her husband. “Claudia, hey. Where’s Roy?”
“Oh he’s asleep. Listen…” she started as she took a seat next to Bill. “I just wanted to apologize if you felt like you were being kicked out of your own cabin.”
“Oh it’s fine,” Bill assured her. “Considering that it’s air conditioned in here, I’ll probably stay here anyway.”
“Mmm, that would have been nice. How do you guys deal with not having AC in the cabins?”
“It’s not so bad at night. We can open the windows and get a nice breeze.”
“If you say so. I didn’t feel any breezes while we were in there.”
“Yeah, with where the windows are, you tend to only really feel them on the beds. Which, luckily, is where they’re most needed.”
“Yeah, that still doesn’t explain it.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled as she put her chin in her hand. “That was probably more than you wanted to know.”
“I mean…” Bill stalled, shifting in his chair. “Well let’s be honest with each other. I left because I figured that was where the evening was going for you too.”
Bill saw a sly smile between Claudia’s fingers. As embarrassed as she was, she had clearly enjoyed herself. “What can I say?” she asked as she stood up. “I like a man who shows some guts in the bedroom. Anyway, it was nice meeting you, Bill. Maybe we’ll run into each other again before the summer ends.”
“Probably,” Bill said as he opened his book again. “I’m here for another two months.”
“Ah yes! Alright, I hope you have a swell night. I know we did,” she giggled.
“Yep, have a good one,” Bill replied, turning back to his book and settling in for a quiet night.
(“new voicemail, Sunday, July 13th, 10:06 AM”)
“Hey Amy, Bill here. Nothing new to report, really; just letting you know I’m still alive, ha ha. Crazy to think I’m already halfway through this trip; it feels like I just got settled in here. But hey, time flies when you’re having fun, right?
“Man, have I mentioned how incredible the food is here? I can’t believe it’s this good when it’s all you can eat. I’m going to miss it when I have to go back to the cafeteria at work. No offense to them, of course. I should probably started getting used to it now, though, because, uh, my pants have been little tight these days, heh heh.
“Anyway, don’t you worry about me, I’ll take care of myself. You have a good week.”
It was late Friday afternoon, and Bill was taking a nap in the cabin before dinner. Roy came back to retrieve his roommate, making just enough commotion as he came in to wake Bill. “Hey! You ready for dinner?”
“Yeah,” Bill groggily replied as he sat up with a grunt. He swung his legs out of the bed as he took a sitting position, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Bill and Roy had long ago reached the point of being comfortable showing this much skin around each other, so this didn’t make Bill uncomfortable.
What did make him uncomfortable was looking down and knowing that his belly had grown since he’d arrived at Utanidi. He rubbed his stomach on the side with a worried look, resolving that he had to stop eating so much at the dining hall. But it was hard to restrain himself when the food was so good and when everyone around him was going back for seconds, thirds, even fourths and fifths. Seconds had become a habit for Bill, something he initially justified by saying that he was just taking it easy since he was on vacation. But at this rate, he was going to be bringing back a different kind of souvenir from this trip.
If it wasn’t obvious from looking down, it was obvious from how his clothes fit, or rather, didn’t. He put his shirt on first, and in spite of all his pulling, he couldn’t get it to go all the way over his stomach. He tried to put his shorts on next, struggling to pull them over his expanded thighs. Even as he tried to suck in his stomach, it seemed his waistline had slowly but surely reached the point where his shorts couldn’t button all the way around him.
After giving up on buttoning his shorts, he exhaled and let his stomach push out forward. His shorts opened outward where they would have been closed by the button and fly, and his shirt crept up over his stomach even more, to the point where he could feel the bottom hem stretched over his belly button. He felt like a sorry sight, swollen up in clothes that felt like sausage casings around his pudgy body.
“Looks like you could use some new clothes,” Roy observed with a grin on his face, seeming to have a more positive view of things
With a sigh, Bill replied, “I just need to not eat so much so these start fitting again.”
Roy’s face contorted into a look of amusement and confusion. “What? Nah, look, there’s a store on the grounds where you can buy more clothes, and the best part is, you won’t have to pay for them. You can make your company foot the bill.”
Bill was looking down at his stomach nervously, rubbing it with superficial strokes, like he was still trying to convince himself it was real.
“Hey, come on. You’re stressing out about this too much. And stress was what got you here in the first place, remember?”
Bill’s attention shifted from his stomach to looking pensively out the window. As his face melted from a nervous expression to a resigned one, he conceded, “You’re right about that much.”
A modest smile crept across Bill’s face as he looked back at Roy. Roy met Bill’s smile with a warm grin of his own. Patting his roommate on the back, he said, “Come on, let’s go get you something that fits. Bigger or not, there’s no sense in forcing yourself to wear something uncomfortable.”
Bill looked down and zipped his fly up as far as it would go. “How am I supposed to go out looking like this?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Don’t worry about it. Just walk behind me.”
Luckily for Bill, the two didn’t run into many people as they walked to the mess hall. Roy lead the pack of two, and when they did pass someone, he made a point to greet them and divert attention away from Bill. In spite of Bill’s nervousness, they seemed to get to the shop without anyone noticing how his clothes didn’t fit. Or at least, without anyone pointing it out.
The two made their way around the store for Bill to pick out some new shorts–cargo shorts, for practicality–and a new shirt. He initially went for a gray tee, but Roy tried to encourage him to try out something else.
“How about red?”
“Nah, I’ll look like the Kool Aid man.”
“You’ve been wearing a red shirt since you got here, and you didn’t exactly look like cherry licorice then.”
Bill gave Roy a sideways glance before putting down the grey shirt and exchanging it for an orange one. As Bill walked toward the dressing rooms, Roy yelled out, “You might want to get more than one while you’re here, once you know you have the right size.” Bill ignored him and strode on, not wanting to admit that this change in his size might be permanent.
Once he was in the dressing room, Bill had a chance to really look at himself. His shirt had ridden up even farther, revealing his belly button along with the flabby underside of his stomach. His pants, which had become totally unzipped again, would have been ready to fall off if his thighs weren’t jammed in there. With a sigh, he tugged them both off, revealing the corpulent body underneath.
He tried to not dwell on it for too long, slipping on the new shirt and shorts as quickly as he could. He was relieved to feel how much better they fit, his once constrained legs feeling free in the new space and his shirt fitting lightly on his frame instead of tightly around it. It was a relief to once again be wearing clothes that fit him, though his relief was tempered by the knowledge that they only fit because they were a bigger size.
Bill shook his head, trying to shake off his concerns, and walked out with his old clothes in hand. Roy looked him over and nodded. “Better, huh?”
Bill was hesitant to answer, but as he looked down and reveled in the gentler fit of his clothes, he couldn’t help but feel relieved. “A lot better.”
“You might as well wear them out.”
Bill nodded in agreement. After settling the cost, the two left to bring Bill’s old clothes back to the cabin before heading to the dining hall for dinner.
The dining hall was fairly crowded when the two walked in, but Roy spotted a group of familiar faces who waved him and Bill over. Roy raised up his pointer finger in a “wait a minute” gesture and pointed toward the buffet, at which the others gave them a thumbs up. Once the two had filled their trays, they walked over to the table and sat down.
Bill recognized most of the faces around him, but was hit and miss with remembering people’s names. Not that it mattered much, as he got swept up in the whirlwind of conversation happening around him, his fellow diners seeming almost intent on ensuring he didn’t feel left out. Or maybe they were really that friendly. Everyone certainly seemed friendly at Utanidi; from his very first day, Bill felt like a part of the family, not like a newcomer.
And that was certainly true now, as Bill finished his first course in between chatting with the group, and didn’t give a second thought to joining them as they got up for seconds. At the suggestion of one of his fellow campers, he got a chocolate milkshake with his second course, remarking, “I haven’t had one of these in ages. This is going to be so good.”
And it was, as rich and thick as he remembered the best chocolate milkshakes being. Only trouble was that it was hard to drink, so he spent his second round chasing bites of his food with sips of shake. Each sip of the rich drink had him wondering why he hadn’t had a milkshake in so long. When he finished it along with his second course, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity and get another, along with another round of food, since everyone else was too.
As Bill got up, he found himself a little shaky on his feet, but quickly got his footing again and joined the others at the buffet. He complimented his meat-heavy third course with another milkshake, this time in a large cup instead of a small. Since it was all-you-can-eat anyway, he figured, why limit himself to the small? He also took a bigger straw, shaking his head for not noticing them the first time.
With the help of a thicker straw, the shake went down even easier the second time, even as Bill found himself having to lean back in his seat to keep comfortable. But this just made it easier for him to engage with his fellow dinners, so he didn’t think much of if.
That was until the group got up to get fourths, and as Bill joined them, he found his stomach pushing out when he stood up. He had to hold on to the back of his chair as he regained his balance. Once he did, he had to lean back to counteract all the extra weight in his belly. The feeling of fullness reminded Bill of what he had promised himself about taking it more lightly at these dinner, but Roy interrupted his ruminations, shouting over the commotion of the crowd, “How are those clothes fitting?”
Bill pulled at the bottom hem of his shirt and found, to his relief, it was still reaching down to his shorts and covering all of his belly.. “Good!” he shouted back.
“Alright,” Roy enthused as he patted Bill on the shoulder. “Shall we?”
Bill had to walk with a certain deliberateness to avoid stumbling as he walked to the buffet alongside his fellow diners. But he found his stride and was soon piling up his plate once again, keeping up with everyone else more easily than expected. He decided to forgo another milkshake, opting for root beer instead to wash down his meal.
Everyone in the group around Bill managed to keep up a steady pace as they moved on to their fourth dish, something he was both astounded by and jealous of. He was already so full that even sitting down had become a challenge, and he had to stand sideways to put down his tray because he didn’t relish the thought of bending forward. But he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, so he kept up a steady pace as he kept talking with the other group members. He had to wash down most of his food with the root beer, and even then, each bite made a perceptible sensation as it joined the growing mound in his stomach.
Things started getting hazy as Bill felt drowsy from having to hold such a large mass in his stomach. He almost looked at Roy with incredulity when he asked, “You wanna go again?” But looking at his tray, he realized he’d somehow finished even his fourth course.
“If I can get up,” Bill replied, leaning back in his chair so his stomach could push outward as much as it needed to.
After pushing himself up, Roy said, “Let me help you,” and he pulled up on one of Bill’s arms. Bill was too drowsy to protest, so he pushed himself up in spite of the protestations of a replete stomach that demanded he stay in place. Bill had to keep one hand on his chair to find his balance once he stood, leaning back even farther to let his stomach protrude as much as it needed to.
Bill felt lightheaded, like the combined effect of gravity and his body redirecting his blood for digestion hadn’t left enough for his brain. The rest of the night passed in a haze, leaving him with only scant memories of loading up a fifth tray, munching tiredly on his fifth course, needing two of his fellow diners to help pull him out of his chair at the end of the night, and walking back to the cabin with his arm around Roy’s shoulder.
When they finally got back and Bill fell on his bed, he regained some awareness as he found it hard to breath with a mound of food and drink resting on top of him. Looking down, he saw his bulbous belly rising and falling quickly with his shallow breaths, sticking out as if his feast had made it immune to gravity. Hoping to relieve some of the pressure, he turned on his side, his heavy stomach initially making the turn difficult before pulling him down. With his breathing now easier, he gave in to the food comma and fell into heavy sleep.
As Bill stirred from his slumber, he looked over and saw Roy sitting up in his own bed, looking much more well-rested than him. In spite of how heavily he had slept, Bill sat up groggily and rubbed his closed eyes with a groan. Upon standing, he felt his stomach push out with a rotund tension, like he was still stuffed from the night before. He didn’t feel full, not in comparison to the previous night, but he certainly didn’t feel hungry.
Bill was still wearing the same shirt and shorts from the previous afternoon, but he could feel that the button on his shorts had become undone. He was able to button them up, but in doing so, he felt his arms rub up against the soft bottom of his belly. His shirt had ridden up, and he had to pull it down to cover up again.
“Ugh, Christ, how much did I eat last night?” Bill asked, rubbing the top of his stomach like it was bruised.
“Lots,” Roy replied with a drawn-out tone of enthusiasm. “I was impressed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat that much.”
“Great,” Bill replied, now rubbing his head like he had a headache. “So much for getting back on the wagon.”
“Hey, I don’t know what wagon you think you fell off, but you’re better off walking.”
“Oh you think?” Bill asked, his tone still sarcastic. Clutching his ample belly in his hand, he asked, “Do you have any idea how much weight I’ve put on since I got here?”
“Not as much as you could have.”
After a sigh, Bill added, “Well I guess that’s true.” At least there was one silver lining to his predicament.
“But hey, last night was a good step in making up for lost time. We still have at least a month. If you keep eating like that, you can catch up by then.”
“‘Catch up’? What is it you think I’m trying to do?”
Roy’s face scrunched up in a mix of confusion and amusement before he could answer Bill. “The same thing anyone else who comes to a camp whose name means “bigger” in Cherokee is trying to do.” He patted his belly with an audible “thwump” and rubbed it enthusiastically, a satisfied smile stretching across his face.
It was then that Bill noticed that his roommate was also significantly fatter than he was when they arrived at Utanidi. His gut, still his body’s centerpiece, had expanded a few inches in all directions. Whereas before his belly seemed to lead the way as he walked, now it seemed to be pulling him along as he struggled to move with all the weight he’d put on recently, something he hadn’t quite adjusted to. Though his beard, having also grown out, obscured the volume of his face, it definitely had a rounder foundation to rest upon. It seemed in all his self-conscious fretting about his own weight, Bill hadn’t noticed his roommate ballooning right in front of him.
It didn’t seem possible, Bill thought. What kind of camp would dedicate itself to weight gain, and who would attend a camp like that? Didn’t people usually go to camps for the opposite?
But things started clicking for Bill. He thought of the all-you-can-eat dining hall. He thought of the above-average average size of his fellow campers. He thought of how the store’s clothing selection had a greater variety of sizes than styles, and of its trade-in window. He thought of everyone’s surprise when he told them his boss had recommended this camp. It would all make sense if Utanidi were indeed a weight gain camp.
“Now come on. Are you going to waste this opportunity? Or are you going to go for what you know you want?”
“I… I don’t know if I would say this is what I want.”
“Oh really?” Roy asked rhetorically as he strode closer to Bill. “Because you’ve already done a bulk of the work yourself. But now that you’re starting to get a taste of what it can be like, you’re having second thoughts. I get it; I did the same thing my first time here, wondering if this was the right choice for me, thinking of backing out of it before I got in too deep.” Roy had stepped quite close to Bill, to the point where Bill found himself stepping backwards to counter Roy’s advances, until he felt his bed against the back of his legs.
“But let me tell you,” Roy continued, now close enough that their bellies could touch if one of them puffed out their stomach. “You wouldn’t have already gotten this far if this wasn’t what you really wanted. And that dining hall is right there, waiting for you to walk back in and indulge again, to treat yourself until you’re wearing the aftermath on your waist, and you can walk out of here proud of your personal growth.”
Just as Bill felt like he was about to fall backwards on his bed, Roy backed up and dropped the pep talk posture. “But maybe I’m wrong,” he relented, his voice having lost its reassurance. “You know yourself better than I do. All I know is that if someone had given me a speech like that, it could have saved me a lot of second-guessing and a lot of wasted time.” He turned back to Bill, no longer looking at him so intensely, but still demanding his attention as he asked, “So what’s it going to be?”
Bill wasn’t sure what to think, and stared at Roy blankly before looking toward the floor. It was too early for this, he thought. He had to at least get some food in his system before he could think about this kind of thing.
“I guess you don’t have to answer that now,” Roy relented as he turned towards his clothes to change. “I’m going to go grab breakfast. Want to come along?”
“Yeah,” Bill replied, unsure but without hesitation. “Let’s do that.”
Roy finished getting dressed and the two left for the dining hall, arriving to find it sparsely populated. The crew had just put out the day’s selection, and everything looked hot and steamy. Roy looked at Bill and relented, “You get what you want, man. As much or as little as that may be.” He then went ahead of Bill, leaving Bill to decide for himself how much he wanted to eat.
Bill grabbed a plate and walked up to the buffet. All the breakfast standards were at the front, so he took two pieces of bacon, two pieces of toast, and a small pile of scrambled eggs. Holding his plate in both hands, he looked at the food in front of him, then looked down the rest of the buffet, where Roy was happily filling up his tray. He then went back to the buffet and scooped more eggs and more bacon onto his plate, before going back to get a tray. He then went down the line, piling up his tray with whatever his stomach desired. At the end, he filled a mug most of the way with coffee and topped it off with cream.
As Bill approached the table where Roy had sat down, Roy had already started on his first entrée, a waffle with syrup and plenty of butter. When Bill put his tray down, Roy looked up and a smile spread across his face. “Going for it after all?”
After sitting down in front of his feast, Bill replied, “I’ve already gotten so far. It’d be a shame to give up now.”
Roy’s smile curled into a smirk. “I couldn’t agree more. Dig in!”
And dig in Bill did, enthusiastically eating his way through his first round of food, and then a second, and then a third, filling his tray to capacity every time. He managed to keep up with Roy’s intake during each course, in spite of Roy clearly having the bigger stomach capacity, as he worked through his three courses easily. After Bill finished his third tray of breakfast, he reclined in his chair, letting out a contented groan as he rubbed his stuffed belly, feeling the hard mass underneath. Roy didn’t seem quite as full, but he leaned forward with a grin at Bill’s display. “Feel good?”
“Mmhm,” Bill replied in a strained voice.
“Good.” In a more neutral voice, he asked, “Can you get up?”
“I think so,” Bill replied with a grunt. It took some struggling, but he was able to get back to his feet, letting out an impressive belch when he did so.
“Looks like it might already be time for a new shirt.”
Bill looked down before realizing he wouldn’t be able to see that far in front of himself. Pulling down at the bottom hem, he found that he had, in fact, outgrown his shirt already. Maybe he’d waited too long to move up a size and now already had to move up two. Maybe it was just how much breakfast he’d eaten. Either way, that shirt wasn’t going down.
“I dunno,” Bill admitted, rubbing his fingers along the line of exposed skin. “I kinda like it.” Roy’s eyebrows shot up, though his smile remained steadfast. “Do you think anyone will have a problem with it?”
With a chuckle, Roy answered, “Not here.”
(“new voicemail, Thursday, August 21th, 2:04 PM”)
Amyyy, I’m homeee! Are I Love Lucy references still in vogue? Anyway, man, what a summer it’s been. I really have to thank you. You knew exactly what I needed to feel ready to go back to work. I’m honestly looking forward to Monday, if you can believe it. Don’t worry, I’ll ease back into things; we won’t have to do this again, I promise you.
“Anyway, it’s been swell. I’m off to go shop for a new professional wardrobe, but I’ll see you soon!”
Since Bill had to buy a new wardrobe anyway, he took the opportunity to buy some clothes he really thought he looked good in. While the summer heat made his first day back an unideal day to debut his full outfit with the vest and suit jacket with matching black pants, he still felt good strolling in with a lavender button-down shirt and purple tie on top of khaki pants.
The first coworker Bill ran into was one of the HR associates, who looked at him with wide eyes when she rounded the corner. “Bill, hey! Welcome back! You look… different.”
“Yeah,” Bill replied with a smile. “I grew my beard out while I was away and liked it enough to keep it, obviously giving it a proper trim first. It’s a change, for sure, but, uh, it’s growing on me,” he said cheekily, laughing at his own pun as he stroked his facial hair, enjoying feeling the pudgier cheeks underneath.
“Yeah… That must be it… Well, it’s good to have you back,” she concluded before walking off.
That set the tone for most of Bill’s interactions that day. All his coworkers were too polite to mention the obvious change, and he had a grand time messing with them as he namechecked anything but his weight as what looked different about him. Sometimes it was his beard, sometimes it was his more colorful outfit, and sometimes he chalked it up to feeling more relaxed from his time off. And every time, his coworkers took his word for it.
Of course, he knew. It had been deliberate, after all. His flabby stomach and soft love handles bounced under his shirt as he walked, something that didn’t happen before he went off to Utanidi. Or if it did, he hadn’t noticed. But now he reveled in it, his giant belly like a big bowl of jelly leading the way as he walked. All his steps felt more deliberate now, more mindful, as he moved his extra mass forward. He stood tall and proud, giving his belly as much as room as it needed to jut out. He remembered Roy’s advice about walking that he’d given him after their first swim and thought he would be proud.
After getting settled at his desk, Bill walked over to Amy’s office to pay her a visit and thank her for all she did. He found her typing away until he tapped on her door frame. “Knock knock.”
“Bill, hey!” Amy’s eyes lit up as she swiveled her chair and faced him. “It’s good to finally see you back. How was your beak?”
“Oh fantastic,” he beamed. “You were right; Camp Utanidi was perfect for me.”
“Well good! You look great!” she enthused. “I knew it would be a good place for you to relax. I hope you’ll take things easy on your first day back,” she added like a mother reminding her son to wear a winter jacket.
“Well, with your blessing…” Bill replied with a smile.
“Ooh, so, I hope you didn’t bring a lunch, because we have a welcome back lunch planned for you today, catered by the local country buffet. And hey, stick around ‘till the end and I’ll give you first dibs on any leftovers you want to take home. Let me know now if there’s anything you want me to order extra of.” Bill turned his head diagonally and gave her a knowing smile with eyes half-closed. “You know, since it’s on the company dollar,” she elaborated.
“That’s alright, but thank you for the offer,” Bill replied, trying to maintain an even tone. “I’ll see you at lunch.”