“Rub My Belly for Good Luck”

Originally published January 27, 2017.
Contains: long-term weight gain.

Consider this a very late birthday present for my good friend Jonathan, a.k.a. xenobody. When I approached him about writing a story for him, he picked what he called “a slice of a premise” of the following nature:

There’s one fragment that I’ve not been able to work into an actual narrative. It features a university teacher’s assistant – a roundsome fellow – who wears one of those shirts which read “Rub My Belly for Good Luck.” In particular, he wears this shirt on days when there’s going to be a test/quiz. He doesn’t get many takers, until one struggling student takes him up on it and finds their luck legitimately improving as a result.

The idea grabbed me immediately, and I started thinking of ways to fill it out (heh) and make a proper story. In particular, every time Carlos (our fearless hero) finds out the shirt helped one of his students do well, he finds all his clothes becoming a little bit tighter (except, mysteriously, the shirt itself). And once word gets around that his shirt worked for the one struggling student, a lot more of his students end up wanting to rub his belly.

It was Carlos’s first time proctoring a test in his first semester as a teacher’s assistant. The first test of the year had snuck up on him, as the flurry of every new thing the new semester offered made that September pass quite quickly. But it was the end of the fourth week, and it was time for the students to take their first test, whether they or Carlos liked it or not.

Of all of the responsibilities that came with being a T.A., Carlos figured proctoring the tests had to be the easiest. Grading homework and quizzes was a pain, and always took him longer than the three-to-four hours per week that Professor Gideon insisted he shouldn’t exceed when grading. He’d barely found time in his disorganized and hectic schedule for office hours in the department lounge. He initially thought he could use that time to work on his own homework, but the stream of students who came to see him was just steady enough to prevent that. At least the test was only an hour, and keeping an eye out for students looking at other papers would be easier than helping them untangle Professor Gideon’s convoluted homework questions.

As the students filed into the classroom, Carlos sat in the front behind the desk. To his right were two piles of tests, two different versions entrusted to him by Professor Gideon. He’d already interleaved the pile of Scantrons with the piles of tests to make passing them out easier, so he sat twiddling his thumbs and making chit chat with the few students who’d come to see him during his office hours.

As the clock struck 11:00 and the last few stragglers filed in, Carlos stood up to closed the door. As he did, the text on the bottom of his shirt that had previously been hidden by the desk came into view. It was a simple yellow shirt, plain up top, but over his stomach in brown letters was written, “Rub my belly for good luck.” It had been a graduation present from his older brother, who told him to “put that gut of yours to good use.” He’d kept it in the bottom of his dresser for most of his time at college, but proctoring seemed like a good time to pull it out.

Carlos had worn the shirt once before while proctoring one of the quizzes Professor Gideon gave out at the end of class on Fridays. He’d gotten a few comments from some of the students, most of them regulars at his office hours, about how it was an appropriate shirt. What he hadn’t gotten was any takers, which he had to admit was a trifle disappointing. Carlos wasn’t especially confident in his size, being one of those fat kids who’d grown up to be pleasantly plump all over. But the “fun-loving fat guy” image was one way he found some comfort in it. For the students to compliment the shirt but not take him up on its promise felt more like consolation than anything else.

He wasn’t expecting much more this time, but he’d worn the shirt anyway, telling himself he probably wouldn’t find many other excuses to wear it. He picked up both piles of exams and turned to face the class. “Alright, everyone, you know the drill. Put away everything but your calculators and cheat sheets. If you need a #2 pencil, I have some up here.”

Once the students had put everything away, Carlos walked up and down the rows, passing out the exams from alternating piles so no one could cheat off the person next to them. “Remember to mark whether you’re taking exam A or B on your Scantron along with your name,” he called out. He continued down the deals, hoping that if he stopped next to every student, someone might take him up on his shirt’s offer.

It seemed that wasn’t going to happen, until Carlos reached the last row. Near the back was seated a guy with nearly shoulder-length hair wearing a beanie and a shirt with Bob Marley on it. As Carlos put an exam down on his desk, he looked up and asked, “Hey dude? Can I take you up on that offer?”

Carlos looked down and saw the student pointing toward his stomach. “Yeah, man. I didn’t wear this shirt just for looks.”

“Thanks, dude,” he said as he extended his hand and gave Carlos’s belly some evenly-paced strokes. “I need all the luck I can get.”

Carlos pulled his mouth inward, letting his smile show through but not wanting to betray just how giddy he was that someone had taken him up on his offer. As he turned to hand out the last couple exams, he could see some of the other students looking at the one who’d rubbed his belly with raised eyebrows. A few more were looking at him, seemingly surprised he let someone do what his shirt invited. But he just finished passing out the tests and returned to the front of the class, pleased with the recent turn of events.

As Carlos passed the student who’d rubbed his belly, he looked down and saw the name on the Scantron: Billy Johnson. Billy wasn’t a face Carlos recognized from his office hours, but perhaps he should have been, as Billy’s homework and quiz grades hovered consistently below the passing threshold. He certainly wasn’t lying when he said he needed all the help he could get.

But Carlos didn’t fixate on that too much. Except for the regulars at his office hours, the students in the class were just names and handwriting styles to him, Billy included. But now that Billy had taken him up on the offer on his shirt, he found himself hoping Billy would indeed surprise him.

It was the Tuesday after the test, and Carlos had seen a few new faces during his office hours. He wasn’t privy to the exam results, as Professor Gideon had graded the scantrons herself, but he had to assume his new visitors were students who weren’t happy with their grades. As they sought his advice on the week’s homework assignment, fumbling over foundational concepts that they should have had down for the first test, his suspicions seemed to be confirmed

When Carlos saw Billy walk in, he assumed that was the case for him too and felt a tinge of disappointment. But when Billy saw Carlos, his eyes lit up, and he bounded over while giving him a wave. “Dude! It worked! Your shirt worked!”

“It wor–Oh! How did you do?”

“I got an 82! An 82, dude!”

“Hey!” Carlos exclaimed as he gave Billy a high five that echoed across the entire lounge. “That’s awesome! Keep it up!”

“I’ll try!” Looking down at Carlos’s stomach, Billy’s face took on a less enthusiastic expression. It might have been because Carlos wasn’t wearing the shirt that day. “Will, uh… will you be wearing that shirt during the next quiz too?”

Raising one side of his mouth with a giggle, Carlos told him, “Sure.”

“Oh sweet! Alright, well… since I’m here, I might as well work on that homework.”

As Billy sat down at Carlos’s table and pulled out his backpack, Carlos shifted in his seat to adjust how his pants wrapped around his waist. They felt a little bit tighter than he was used to.

True to his word, Carlos wore the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt to that Friday’s quiz. He showed up at 11:30 just as Professor Gideon was getting ready to leave, handing him the half-length sheets of paper with the two questions written on it. “They’re all yours,” she told him.

“Alright. Enjoy your afternoon.”

“Eh, that’s a nice thought,” she sighed as she slung her bag over her shoulder. When she saw his shirt, she stared a moment before closing her eyes and laughing without opening her mouth. “Anyone ever take you up on that?” she asked.

“A few,” Carlos told her in a higher-pitched tone a voice, causing the students to chuckle.

Turning back to look at the class, Gideon said in a louder voice, “Remember, Carlos has office hours too. If you want to raise your grades, that’s a better way for him to help you.”

Carlos kept a straight face as the professor walked past him, before letting a smirk show through as he looked back toward the class. Billy was looking at him from the back of the class with a similarly knowing smile on his face. “Alright, everyone, everything away but your calculators and pencils.”

Carlos went up and down the rows, passing out the quizzes. To his surprise, as he walked down the second row, he felt a hand slide across his stomach. Looking behind him, he saw another one of the new faces from Tuesday retracting her hand as her cheeks turned red. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I just… I could use a little extra luck too.”

WIthout missing a beat, Carlos gave her a smile and a thumbs up before he resumed walking up and down the rows. Another student in the front row raised his hand to get Carlos’s attention and meekly admitted, “I could use some luck too.” With a smirk, Carlos pointed his open hand to his belly, which the guy gave some frantic rubs before letting him go on his way.

Unlike the first two nervous rubs, Billy moved his hand in a singular swift, round motion around the front of Carlos’s belly as he put the quiz down. His arm extended nearly straight out to travel from one side of Carlos’s abdomen to the other, before withdrawing it just as the quiz landed on his desk. Carlos was impressed by how much territory Billy had covered in such a short amount of time. Smirking and raising his eyebrows, he gave Billy an approving nod before he walked on to pass out the remaining quizzes.

Professor Gideon had left the kids a short quiz that week, so most of them left before 11:50. When class ended, Carlos called out, “Alright, everyone, bring ‘em up.” The few students remaining, including Billy, brought their quizzes to the front and returned to their desks to pack their stuff. Billy seemed to be moving especially slowly as he packed. Once the other students left, he walked up to the desk and said, “Hey, dude, could you possibly… grade my quiz now?”

Giving it a bit of thought, Carlos shrugged and said, “I don’t see why not.” Gideon had left him the answer key along with the quizzes, so he took Billy’s quiz out of the pile and looked it over. A quick scan was followed by a more thorough examination, then double then triple checking. Both of Billy’s answers were correct, and Carlos couldn’t find any errors with his work. Looking up with a smile, he said, “It’s a 10/10.”

The nervous expression on Billy’s face blew up into a giddy smile as he raised his hand to give Carlos a high five. “Awesome, dude! Thanks!”

“Hey, don’t thank me,” Carlos said, trying to sound humble. “You’re the one who earned the grade. I mean, you came to my office hours; you’re definitely working for it.”

“Maybe, but your shirt certainly didn’t hurt. Anyway, I’ll see you on Tuesday,” he promised as he walked out.

With a smile on his face, Carlos filed Billy’s quiz back in the pile and packed up his own bag. With a grunt, he stuck his thumb in his pants and dragged the upper hem to the side. They were feeling tight again.

Carlos never did get the names of the other two students who’d rubbed his belly; they’d put their quizzes in the pile before he could catch their names. But it seemed that word that his shirt worked as promised had gotten around. During the next quiz, about five more students timidly asked to rub his belly, or just bypassed asking and reached out as he walked by. But Billy and the other two were less embarrassed, rubbing Carlos’s belly confidently as he passed by.

By the time the next quiz rolled around, all of the students who’d previously rubbed Carlos’s belly had no shame about rubbing it again. As they did, quite a few mentioning that his shirt had worked. That was how it went for the next couple of quizzes, until most people in the class had stroked his stomach and were comfortable doing it as he walked the rows.

What surprised Carlos was that the rubs weren’t limited to quizzes and tests. Like Billy, more students who had earned surprisingly good grades on their quizzes came to Carlos’s office hours to thank him, then stuck around to work on their homework. If he wore the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt, they were even more likely to stay, giving his belly a rub for good measure before they got down to work. And as his other clothes kept mysteriously turning tighter, he wore the shirt to his office hours more and more.

By the time second test rolled around, Carlos was finding all his clothes fit kinda funny. His pants were digging into his waist, and his shirts weren’t reaching the bottom of his belly with quite as much slack. The only shirt that still fit him fine was the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt, which fit as comfortably as it always had. Carlos told himself his clothes had probably shrunk in the wash. After all, he’d rarely worn the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt, and thus rarely had to wash it, so it made sense that it wouldn’t have shrunk.

Either way, Carlos wore the shirt and a pair of sweatpants to the second test. They were just about the only clothes he had left that fit him, and since Professor Gideon wouldn’t be showing up, he didn’t have anyone to impress. He certainly wasn’t out to impress the students; as long as he wore the shirt, that was all they cared about.

Carlos kept his arms up high as he passed out the tests, giving the students easier access to his belly. Most of them were swift enough to get a rub in before he put the test down, but a few of them gave his gut a bit more attention than that. Billy in particular rubbed it in circles three or four times before giving it some pats on the side. “You’ve helped me get this far, belly,” he said, talking directly to Carlos’s abdomen. “Don’t let me down.” Carlos chuckled as he put down the test.

The test itself passed unremarkably, and Carlos brought the Scantrons to Professor Gideon’s office as always. He put the test out of his mind until Saturday afternoon, when Gideon emailed Carlos and the class the midterm grades.

“I’ve attached the mid-term grades. Be sure to find the line with your student ID number and check that your grades are entered correctly.

“I have to say, I’m thoroughly impressed with the improvements the entire class has made from the beginning of the semester now. Carlos tells me many more people have been visiting his office hours, and you can see how much it helps to take advantage of the resources offered to you. Here’s hoping you keep that momentum going into the second half of the semester.

With a smile on his face, Carlos opened up the excel spreadsheet attached to the email, excited to see how much his students had improved. When he saw the columns with the grades for the two tests, he grinded even more widely. 40s and 50s had turned into passing grades. 60s and 70s had turned into high 70s and 80s. 80s had turned into 90s. The only rows where he didn’t see a marked improvement were those of the students who’d been doing well from the beginning, and a row that started with some failing homework and quiz grades before a familiar 82 appeared in the first test column. Billy, it seemed, had ridden the luck from Carlos’s shirt to an 84 on his second test.

The smile on Carlos’s face grew even wider. Unbeknownst to him, it wasn’t the only part of him that did. His glee was interrupted when he was startled by the sound of something pinging off of the underside of his desk, before making a quiet clattering noise on the floor underneath. After he settled down from the shock, he leaned back to look under the desk, only to find that the button of his pants was missing. As the sides of the pants flopped out, laid low by his encroaching belly, he reached under the desk with his foot to drag the button out. He grabbed it with his toes so he wouldn’t have to bend down and dropped it in the trash.

Carlos’s roommate was still out, so he got up to pick out some different clothes. Trying to pull the sides of the pants together, he found that he couldn’t bring the flaps to meet. How the pants had stayed on him that long, he didn’t know. His shirt wasn’t in much better condition. He pulled it down to be on the safe side, only to find that even when he pulled it as far down as it would go, he could still feel the soft, warm expanse of his belly underneath his fingers. After letting go, he ran his hand over his abdomen and felt his belly button uncovered by the shirt.

Trying on several different shirts and pairs of pants revealed they all fit similarly. Carlos couldn’t get the pants that still had their buttons fastened around his waist. Even if he could, none of his shirts would have been able to reach his beltline. With a sigh, he put on his sweat pants, finding even those felt tighter than he expected. Against all odds, the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt fit just fine, covering his belly with enough slack to go well over the upper hem of his sweat pants.

Carlos knew he had to go buy some more clothes. He couldn’t very well wear the same shirt and pair of pants every day of the week, and if he did, what would he wear on laundry day? He wasn’t thrilled about the idea of wearing the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt off of campus, so he grabbed his hoodie and slipped it on to hide the shirt.

But even his hoodie fit tightly once he slipped it on, wrapping snugly around his torso and pulling the shirt up in the process. It felt surprisingly cozy, though, so Carlos grabbed his keys and wallet and stuffed them in his pockets. He stopped in the bathroom to empty out before he left, but when he went to wash his hands and he saw himself in the mirror, he had second thoughts. He looked like one of those memes he saw people share making fun of a fat guy for wearing a hoodie that was too tight, riding up to expose his belly. Even though the shirt ensured no skin was showing through, it still ended up looking like the frills of a dress due to how tight his hoodie was.

Carlos had hoped the hoodie would make him look less ridiculous than he would wearing a shirt that said “Rub my belly for good luck,” but it seemed to only make him look moreso. Trying to pull the hoodie down, he was met with about as much success as he’d had trying to pull his shirts down. With a loud exhalation, he supposed he’d have to get a hoodie too when he went shopping. He was thankful his T.A. paycheck had come in the previous Friday, for he knew exactly where it would be going.

After driving to the closest department store, Carlos headed in and picked up a few shirts and pairs of pants in his usual sizes: 2XL shirt, 42 waist and 32 leg. Strangely, they didn’t feel any smaller in his hands than the clothes he’d tried on in his dorm that were too small for him. But he shrugged it off, stacking the clothes and bringing them into the fitting room.

Carlos pulled off his shirt to try on the shirts he’d brought in, but he found that all of them fit just as tightly as the ones in his room. The pants were the same case, as difficult to button as the ones that he was convinced had shrunk. In fact, they fit nearly identically. It didn’t make any sense; if he’d outgrown his previous sizes, how could the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt still fit him? With a frustrated grumble, he picked up the shirt and looked for a size on the tag, only to find no such size listing. The usual washing instructions and symbols were on there, but no size to be found.

With the side of his mouth pulled in unhappily, Carlos left the changing room and handed the clothes back to the employee. Though it seemed unbelievable, he supposed he should try some bigger shirts and pants, just in case. Unfortunately, pickings were slim in the bigger sizes. He found only a few 3XL shirts in colors he liked, and the only bigger pair of pants he could find with his leg size had a 44 inch waist. He decided he might as well also bring in a 46×34 pair he found; if the 44×32 pair didn’t fit, he could at least roll the legs up on the bigger pair.

With his second stack, Carlos went into the fitting room to try again. To his bewilderment, all the 3XL shirts fit him quite comfortably, as comfortably as the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt did. The 44×32 pair of pants fit him more comfortably than his jeans had, but the 46×34 fit most comfortably of all. It seemed unbelievable, but on some level, Carlos was just happy to have found clothes that fit.

Carlos returned the 44×32 pair to the employee and headed toward sweatshirts. Once again, he found himself needing to put on a 3XL before he found one that fit him. With a sigh, he took off the sweatshirt and added it to his pile. As he headed toward the checkout, he planned some clothing shopping for the next weekend too. If these were the sizes that fit him now, he knew he’d have to go more places to find more clothes he could wear. I swear, they’re making these sizes smaller now, he thought as he tossed his bag in the back of his car. I bet I’ll fit in the 2XLs at the next place I try.

But Carlos had the same experience at the other clothing stores he tried. The only improvement was that he was able to find some 46×32 pairs of pants he could wear without having the roll the legs up. After bringing home more 3XL shirts, he laid one over his bed as he put the others away. He then threw his “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt on top of it, and found they were roughly the same size. He laid one of his old 2XL shirts on top and found it was noticeably smaller than the other two. He supposed he couldn’t expect anything else, as that was consistent with how they’d fit on his body. Grumbling to himself, he packed up his 2XLs and 42x32s to store at his parents’ house, in case they ever fit again.

Things continued as established as the semester wore on. The students kept rubbing Carlos’s belly before quizzes and their third test, and their grades remained high, albeit with enough spread and variance that Professor Gideon never suspected anything fishy was going on. With how many students were attending Carlos’s office hours to work on homework, it was easy to explain the consistent improvement.

What pleasantly surprised Carlos was that even though at least half the class showed up for each of his office hours, he never found himself overwhelmed. A few of the students who were previously struggling did consistently stay by his side for regular help as they tackled their homework problems. But most of them would come in, give his belly a friendly rub, take a seat at one of the tables, and get to work. With how many of their classmates were in the lounge with them, many of the students were more likely to turn to each other for help than Carlos, which kept things from getting too overwhelming for him.

With a comfortable status quo established, everyone kept up the good work right up to the last quiz. As Carlos picked up the pile of quizzes left by Professor Gideon, he turned to the class and said, “Well everyone, if I don’t see you at my office hours, this will be the last time I see you. So, uh, it’s been real.”

As Carlos searched for the words to form his second sentence, he could see the apprehension starting to show in his students’ faces. “You won’t be at the final?” one of the students in the front row asked?

“Nope. I guess it has too big of an impact on your grades for Professor Gideon to leave it up to a student, so she’ll be proctoring it herself.”

Uneasy murmurs settled over the classroom as Carlos stared over the desks confusedly. The students rubbing his belly for good luck had become such a normal thing in the class that he’d momentarily forgotten about it. “Don’t worry though,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be holding office hours during the exam period before the final, up until it’s scheduled to start. So if you want some, uh, guided study, you know where to find me.”

The noise level in the classroom briefly flared up with sighs of relief and “phew”s and chatter that generally sounded more optimistic than it had before. “Alright, settle down, everyone. I can’t have you talking while I’m passing out these quizzes.” Once the students were quiet, Carlos walked the rows.

All of the students seemed to have their own ways of rubbing Carlos’s belly for good luck. Some would stick their hand out in front of him as he walked and lazily drag it over his gut, so low-effort in their movements that it felt like they were leaving it to him push their hands out of the way with his belly as he walked. Quite a few had mastered the art of giving it a quick circular rub as he passed by, giving it their proper attention but keeping it efficient so he could still pass out the quizzes in a timely manner. A few seemed to take quite a bit of enjoyment in stroking Carlos’s belly, giving it some slower, more methodical rubs as he passed by. As much as he enjoyed the extra attention, he had to keep walking. There were quizzes to be given out, and he wasn’t going to make the other students wait so he could enjoy a bit of belly action.

Time passed quite quickly between the final quiz and Carlos’s last office hours of the semester. Professor Gideon had already sat him down in her office to tell him that he was wonderful to have as a T.A. and that she hoped he’d work for her again the next semester. That bit of good news helped sustain Carlos as he studied for his own final exams. His own studying made him look forward to his last office hours more than he expected. Initially, he thought he’d resent the time taken away from him that he could have spent preparing for his own exams. But in the midst of all his reviewing, he was happy to spend some time going over a subject he understood for once.

Carlos’s final office hours passed much like most of them had. While some of the students who were struggling most in the class stayed by his side the whole time, many spread out in the department lounge, helping each other study as they brushed up their own knowledge. There was, of course, plenty of belly rubbing going on, more than usual as the students gave Carlos’s belly some borderline massages in the hopes that all their studying would stick.

As the time of the exam drew near, Carlos stood up and announced, “Alright everyone, that’s it. Time to head out.” As he heard some grumbling and nervous chatter, he continued, “You’ve done everything you can. Go on in and give it your best.” It felt cheesy, but after the semester he’d had with those kids, he felt like he had to give them something more than just telling them to leave.

Carlos went to stand by the door as the students left, bidding them one last farewell before they went in for their exam. Every one of them gave his belly one last rub as they said their goodbyes. One of the more sporty-looking guys who’d been struggling in the class gave Carlos’s belly a few pats as he said, “Thanks for everything, man,” giving it one last stroke as he left his hand on it and dragged it off as he walked out.

Billy was the last one out of the department lounge. As Carlos watched him approach, he gave him a soft smile. Without Billy’s boldness during the first exam, it might have never been as interesting of a semester as it ended up being. He braced for Billy to give his belly a rub too, but instead he found Billy’s arms wrapped around him. “Thank you, dude.”

Once Carlos recovered from the shock, he brought his arms around Billy’s chest and patted him on the back. “Happy to help, man.”

Pulling away with a smile on his face, Billy left his hands on Carlos’s shoulder and looked at him with a gentle stare. “Maybe you could let me know what your office hours are next semester. Even if you can’t help me with my homework for my other classes, a little bit of this,” he said as he brought his hand down to give Carlos’s belly a solid rub, “would probably help.”

Carlos giggled as he looked down, head facing toward his gut but eyes mostly closed. When he looked back up, he said, “Sure thing. Keep your class syllabus and email me next semester to find out what they are.”

As his smile grew wider, Billy gave Carlos’s belly a few last appreciative pats before he headed out.

Carlos stuck around in the department lounge to get some studying of his own done now that he had the chance. He stayed until he saw the light outside started to fade, when he decided he should probably get some dinner.

The next day, Carlos woke up to see an email from Professor Gideon in his inbox, with the subject “Final grades.”

The email had the usual spiel about when the students could pick up their final exams if they wanted to, along with encouragement that all the students find the line with their student ID number and check that all the grades were entered correctly. There wasn’t any mention of the class’s overall performance, which made Carlos a touch apprehensive as he opened the spreadsheet.

He was thankful to discover that his apprehension was baseless. As he looked down the right side of the spreadsheet, he saw that all of the final exam grades reflected the improved grades of their respective students. Looking down the “final grade” column on the right, he saw a respectable number of As, a lot of Bs, a decent helping of Cs, and a few Ds from students who Carlos knew were taking the class to fulfill a requirement and only had to pass. As he looked the column over, he was pleased to not see a single F.

His pleasure was short-lived, though, for he soon heard a rip emanate from the seat of his chair. This time, Carlos wasn’t surprised as much as he was exasperated. But it felt appropriate, like he oddly expected it to happen.

Once Carlos rose from his chair, he dropped his pajama pants around his feet to see that a rip had been torn on the inner thigh, extending all the way up to the beltline. As he looked down, he could see that his shirt was now wrapped more tightly around his chest, which protruded with its own heft over his wide belly. Rubbing the bottom of that belly, he could feel the bottom of his shirt stretched tightly around the soft, warm underside of his abdomen. Even when he pulled it down, the bottom hem couldn’t reach past his broad abdomen

As Carlos’s roommate kept sleeping, he crept over to his drawer to try on some of his other 3XL shirts. He found they all fit similarly, tight around his torso, barely covering his belly if they could reach the bottom at all. The only shirt that fit him was the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt, which hung past his gut to cover some of his boxers too.

Carlos knew for a fact the shirts couldn’t have shrunk that fast. Something wasn’t right. With a determined expression, he put on his new sweatpants, not wanting to try his luck with his jeans, and walked to the floor’s bathroom.

That early in the morning, not many more of the students were awake. Carlos saw one of the stall doors and one of the shower curtain closed, with the sound of running water coming from behind the curtain. Alone in the bathroom’s main room, he walked up to the mirror and took a good look at himself.

Something about him didn’t look quite right. Against his better judgement, he thought he looked heftier than he was at the beginning of the semester. It was hard for him to judge, with the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt still fitting him fine. He didn’t remember it being baggy when he first got it, which it would have to be to still fit if he’d grown. Also making things difficult for Carlos was the fact that he’d never taken such a close look at his belly before. He generally prefered to not think about it, and had only really given it any thought that semester with all the students rubbing it.

With a pensive look on his face, Carlos made his way back to his room to grab his phone. As he strode on back to the bathroom, he pulled up Facebook to find a tagged photo from the beginning of the semester. He didn’t have many, but he managed to find one from a barbecue at the end of the summer that would do the job.

Back in the bathroom, Carlos walked up to the mirror and looked at his reflection, comparing it to the one in the photo. With some reference, the difference became blisteringly obvious. He looked between his reflection and his phone, and it was clear to see that he was wider. His belly especially now stuck out a solid couple of inches farther on either side, and it looked taller too, as if it had expanded out in all direction. His face, too, had plumped out, with his cheeks having puffed out and his chin hanging down a bit farther, both of them joined into more of a solid ring of fat than they had been previously.

It explained a lot. What he still couldn’t explain was why the “Rub my belly for good luck” shirt still fit.

As Carlos was pondering that quandary, he heard a flush from one of the stalls. He quickly pocketed his phone and started washing his hands, before one of his dorm-mates groggily rounded the corner, rubbing his eyes before he lowered his hands to wash them. When he looked up into the mirror, his eyes shot open. “Hey! You’re that T.A. everyone’s talking about, the one who helped everyone pass their physics class!”

“Heh, I guess so.”

“Do you mind if I get a bit of that luck too? I need all the luck I can get for this exam today.”

With a chuckle, Carlos looked up at him in the mirror and said, “As long a you dry your hands first.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” he said as he pulled out a bunch of paper towels. Once his hands were dry, he turned toward Carlos and put his right hand out, pausing and looking unsure how to proceed. But he soon brought his hand down on Carlos’s belly, giving it an awkward rub. “Thanks, man,” he said before he walked.

“Hey, sure. Good luck!”

As Carlos watched his dorm-mate leave, he looked down and gave his new heft a few gentle pats. He supposed that if he was going to have a reputation, it couldn’t hurt for him to have more belly for people to rub.

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