Originally published October 10, 2017.
Contains: long-term weight gain, romance, brief sexual themes.
About a month ago, I announced that I was going to celebrate the second anniversary of when I posted my first gaining story with a request giveaway. The winner of that giveaway would get to dictate the plot of my next story, and I’d bring their idea to life. The winner, wannafat, said he likes when I write time skips, where a character is noticeably bigger than they were the last time they were described. He suggested a plot that could center around that kind of transformation, and this is the result.
Speaking for myself, I’m really happy with how this story came out. Reader requests can be a mixed bag, as there’s no guarantee the idea will captivate me as much as it does the requester. But wannafat came up with something right up my alley, and I’m happy I was able to bring it to life.
Synopsis: After graduating high school, Jorge and four of his friends all make an agreement to meet up for dinner every summer afterward to catch up and talk about how college is going. One of those friends, Rob, shows up noticeably heftier to every reunion, with a growing appetite to match. With Rob’s growing size and eating habits, Jorge finds himself increasingly captivated by his ever more rotund friend, and the reunions find their friendship growing into new territories along with Rob’s expanding midsection.
It was 5:36 PM on a warm summer evening as Jorge drove around his hometown. He followed his GPS’s directions to the restaurant where he and his four friends had agreed to meet. It was remarkable, he thought, that everyone in the group still wanted to meet up. While he wasn’t sure about the others, he’d found that the first year of college had resulted in him dropping a lot of his high school friends once he realized he was only friends with them because they were forced to spend every day in the same building. And he wasn’t someone who could be picky in choosing his friends. If he’d dropped most of his high school acquaintances, he couldn’t imagine the other four had held on to any more.
But him, Rob, Katya, Nadira, and Diamond had all kept the promise they made before graduation: every summer, they’d meet up for dinner to catch up on how things were going with everyone. And it wasn’t a begrudging willingness. Their group chat was constantly lighting up in the month prior, after Nadira reminded them of their promise, as they tried to coordinate their schedules and pick a place. They’d settled on a casual Italian restaurant that had recently opened in town that they’d heard nothing but good things about. But since it was new to all of them, Jorge followed his GPS’s direction to get there.
Jorge was surprised by the size of the building when he pulled into the parking lot. He wondered what it could have been before it became a restaurant, and how such a large building could have housed an establishment that has flown so thoroughly under his radar. He supposed that would explain how they’d gone under, to be replaced by the Grape Vine.
Looking at his phone, Jorge saw a text from Nadira saying, “I’m here. Ask the host to bring you to a table reserved under my name.” After pocketing his phone, he stepped inside, where a host dressed in business casual attire lead him through the labyrinthine dining room to a round table where the other four sat.
“Jorge!” Diamond called out, jumping up from her seat to give him a hug. Soon Katya and Nadira did likewise, followed by Rob giving Jorge a few pats on the back as they hugged before pulling him in for a real embrace.
“Hey! Sorry if I held you up,” Jorge offered meekly as he sat down.
“Oh don’t worry. I got here early so they’d know where to bring you guys, and that was 15 minutes ago,” Nadira assured him. “We weren’t waiting at all.”
“Well, maybe not ‘not at all’,” Katya chimed in. “But certainly not for long.”
Now that the hubbub of greeting everyone had died down, Jorge could take a better look at how the first year of college had treated everyone. Mostly everyone just looked taller. Katya was still embracing her professed love of loose pants and graphic tees. Nadira’s entire outfit, including her hijab, was so coordinated and ornate that it made the rest of them look like slobs in comparison. Diamond’s once coily hair had been braided into cornrows, probably a practical haircut for the labs she was surely working in, but she was always changing her hairstyle.
Rob was the only one whose appearance had changed in a significant way. Sure, he still wore the tee shirt and unbuttoned short-sleeve button down combo on top of cargo shorts ensemble that he was so fond of. But that tee shirt couldn’t have been the same size that he’d worn a year ago after graduation. Jorge had heard of the freshman 15, but it seemed Rob had remained an overachiever in more ways than one, looking like he’d put on 50 pounds instead. He’d never been what anyone in the group would have called “skinny”, but he was solidly in the “average figure” range for a high school student, a range he’d now left far behind him.
The rest of Rob remained comfortably familiar. His shaggy brown hair and wavy beard, a fixture of Rob’s face as soon as puberty had enabled him to grow one, both remained, helping him look the part of the computer science major he’d applied to be. His red shirt bore some kind of comic book reference that went over Jorge’s head, though it was hard to focus on the design of the shirt when the new belly underneath it was so much more appealing to look at. Looking up, Jorge saw that Rob’s eyes still rested with his lids half-closed, looking out like he was pensively observing the whole group. Of course, his smile showed that he was just as happy to be there as everyone else.
After the initial “Hello”s, the waiter came by to take the group’s order. Along with their entrées, Jorge and Katya ordered appetizers to share for the table, while Rob got an order of fried ravioli for himself. With the orders in, conversation resumed between the five as if no time at all had passed since graduation. “You’re still doing math, right Kat?” asked Diamond.
“That’s the plan,” Katya answered. “No reason to change it.”
“Boy, I admire you,” Nadira chimed in. “I switched from business to communications because all the math involved just got to be too much.”
“What did they have you doing in your first year?” Katya asked.
“Precalc at first. Who knows what came after that? I couldn’t do it.”
“You probably could if our math teachers could teach worth a shit,” Katya half-mumbled.
“Besides, the degree was too demanding,” Nadira continued. “Now I have more time for my clubs and sorority duties.”
“You sure about those priorities, Nad?” Rob asked.
“Oh shush. You have your programs to show that you can do what your degree says you can do, and I’ll have my officer experience.”
“Officer, eh?” Jorge asked. “Of which club?”
“Oh, I was elected to two at the end of last semester: Women Promoting Progress, and the gaming club.”
“Gaming?” Rob asked, his eyes lighting up.
“Girl needs a hobby,” Nadira replied with a shrug.
“How did I not know you play tabletop games?”
“Because I started this year,” she laughed. “My roommate got me into them. Introduced me to the club, and everything else just… happened.”
Conversation continued like that between the five until their food arrived, when it became much harder to keep the train of discussion going. After their meal, most of the group professed to being too full for dessert, but Rob was happy to order some gelato so the group had an excuse to stay at the table longer and keep chatting.
Once the group got the bill, it turned out that Jorge and Diamond were the only ones who’d brought cash. As always, it fell on Katya to calculate how much to put on everyone’s cards, so the waiter wouldn’t have to bring them five separate checks. “Some things never change,” she mumbled as she fiddled with the calculator app on her phone. Once the bill was settled, the group loitered in the parking lot, not wanting to leave now that they’d finally reunited. But as the restaurant’s closing time approached, they figured they’d better part ways. Tight hugs were exchanged between all parties, including Jorge and Rob, who’d dropped the pats on the back and gave Jorge a real hug.
As the two embraced, Jorge could feel the softness of Rob’s newly added pudge underneath his own abdomen. He wasn’t sure whether he was imagining things, but it seemed to have grown bigger as a result of dinner. Jorge could feel that it wasn’t quite as supple as it had been previously, seemingly propped up by all the food Rob had eaten. But of all the hugs Jorge got that night, Rob’s was the best, as he felt himself wrapped up in the embrace of Rob’s long arms. With nearly a head of height on Jorge, Rob could make his embrace feel like a very safe and comfortable place.
“Alright,” Nadira said with a hint of melancholy in her voice. “Same time next year?” Intermingled chuckles and affirmations all met Nadira’s question before the group parted ways, with Jorge walking tiredly back to his car.
Aa Jorge walked, he made few sideway glances at Rob, watching him as he strode to his own car. Though Jorge couldn’t see much of Rob’s figure with the open button-down shirt blocking his view, he could remember it distinctly. His belly had a roundness, a presence of its own that it definitely didn’t have when they were still in high school. Whatever Rob was doing at college, it seemed to have stuck. And though he wasn’t sure why, Jorge hoped Rob would keep doing it.
For the dinner after their sophomore year, the group agreed to meet at Dino’s, a local place that had been the site of many a late-night hangout for them in high school. Jorge fondly remembered nights of only ordering appetizers or desserts to share, because they couldn’t afford to buy much more than that. Diamond always insisted they leave a larger tip than just 20% of the check, so the waitstaff would get their due pay even though the group’s bill sometimes didn’t exceed $20. With his part-time job working at a local pizza stop, Jorge looked forward to being able to spend at least a little bit more at Dino’s than he could before.
Pulling into the Dino’s parking lot, Jorge remembered all the late nights when they’d pile into Katya’s parents’ SUV and head there to find some vestige of relief from school stress. When the thought of papers or projects or tests or applications was weighing on their minds, they’d go to Dino’s. Perhaps for that reason, as soon as Jorge stepped inside, all the tacky local memorabilia immediately made him feel a vague sense of dread. But when the server said, “Hi, welcome to Dino’s! How many?” he came back to the present and remembered he didn’t have to be worried about standardized tests and college applications anymore. Just the job market and student debt.
As before, Nadira arrived first to give the group a rallying point. That time, Jorge was the first to arrive after her, giving them time to exchange a long hug before he sat down. Katya and Diamond were close behind, while a text from Rob revealed he was stuck in traffic. By the time he showed up 20 minutes later, the group had already gotten deep into conversation about the demands of their respective majors. But that didn’t stop Jorge from looking toward the entrance just long enough to see Rob approach the table. And once he saw Rob, he couldn’t look away.
Whatever Rob was doing at college the previous year, he hadn’t slowed it down. His freshman 50 pudge had been expanded upon even farther, and now he strode across Dino’s with a belly that could rival those of the older men there. His tight green tee shirt wrapped around an abdomen that had expanded out to the size of a beach ball, with beanbag-like love handles peeking out when his open button-down shirt swayed far enough to the side. As Rob walked ahead, his belly bounced perceptibly underneath his shirt, the shockwaves rippling up with every step as his hips shifted it side to side in front of him. Even the lobes of his chest bounced with his enthusiastic stride. And to top it all of, a face the was starting to round out like a cherry on top, with pudgy cheeks puffing out before giving way to a double chin that now hung from his jaw.
If Jorge had just a bit less presence of mind, his own jaw would have been hanging down to the floor. But he managed to keep his composure long enough to get it together by the time Rob had hugged Nadira, Katya, and Diamond. In Rob’s rush to hug everyone and sit down, Jorge didn’t get to enjoy saddling up against Rob’s newly blown up belly for very long. But the time he got, the moment of feeling Rob’s plush midsection yield as it was pushed against his own lanky frame, was all he needed.
“Sorry I’m late, everyone,” Rob said. “There was construction on my usual way back here, and I didn’t find out until it was too late to change routes.”
“Your GPS didn’t warn you?” Katya asked.
“I didn’t think I needed a GPS to get back here.”
“So Rob,” Nadira started. “We’ve been talking about our respective degree programs. How’s yours going?”
After pursing his lips, Rob answered, “Fine. No major complaints. Some hard professors, but you’ll get that anywhere. Also plenty of late nights in the computer lab working on projects, but at least you have everyone there to help out. Plus the pizza.”
“Pizza?” Jorge asked.
“Oh yeah,” Rob said with a smile. “Pretty much every night, around 7:00 or 8:00 PM, whoever’s in there puts in a collective delivery order from one of the nearby pizza places. There’s always plenty of pizza, as well as a whole bunch of sides that people can take from freely.”
“How do you work out who pays what?” Katya asked, sound horrified by the prospect of it.
“Eh, it works out. Those of us who have cash chip in some, and the rest take turns putting the whole thing on their card and pocketing the cash. It’s usually the same people, so everyone chips in their fair share.”
“And that’s every night?” Diamond asked disbelievingly.
“Nearly every night, yeah,” Rob answered with a chuckle. “I never learn, though. I always grab dinner at the dining hall first. It’s all-you-can-eat, so I’d be wasting the meals of my meal plan if I didn’t,” he added with another laugh.
“How’s the food?” Nadira asked skeptically.
“A lot better than you would think.”
“Boy, I’m jealous. At my dining hall…” she continued, prompting everyone to chime with their own dining hall horror stories, before they agreed it was a poor choice of conversation topic before they were about to eat.
Like their previous visits to Dino’s, the group ordered appetizers to share. But unlike all those times they’d gone to Dino’s in high school, they could consider both appetizers and entrées as the looked over the menu. But with three different appetizers to share between them, most of them opted for lighter fare from the main menu itself. Rob, however, in addition to ordering honey BBQ wings for himself to come before dinner, ordered a cheesy chicken and pasta dish and declined the offer of a half order.
No one seemed to give Rob’s eating habits much thought, including Rob himself, except Jorge. As Katya, Nadira, and Diamond all talked about what upperclassmen classes they were looking forward too, Rob and Jorge were both nearly silent. Rob was still very much engaged with the conversation, keeping his eyes on whoever was talking and nodding along. But between plowing through his own wings and sampling the other three appetizers on the table, he barely had a chance to speak. Jorge didn’t have the same excuse, as he barely touched the few samples he took from the communal appetizers and put on his own plate. He was too transfixed by watching how much Rob could eat.
Luckily for Jorge, no one seemed to notice his silence until Rob’s plate was nothing more than a graveyard of bones and sauce. By then, Rob was finally able to chime in, “Yeah, I’m working as a lab assistant in the computer science department’s labs. It’s half tutoring, half IT, half, event planner, so it ends up being bit of everything, really.”
“That’s three halves,” Katya objected.
“Event planner?” Nadira repeated quizzically. “Tell me more,” she insisted before taking a sip of her strawberry lemonade.
“Heh, it’s not like anything you do, Nad,” Rob admitted humbly. “It’s just an unspoken rule in the lab that the lab assistant puts in the order for pizza every night and is responsible for coordinating payments.”
“What about you, Jorge?” Rob asked.
“Yeah, Jorge. You’ve been pretty quiet tonight,” Diamond chimed in.
“Heh, I guess I’m just tired from the semester. They say second semester is a pretty touch one for mechanical engineering,” he told them. That wasn’t true, but it was less embarrassing than the truth.
As Jorge regaled the group with stories of his more eventful nights at the pizza shop, the food started to arrive, relieving him of the pressure of needing to make his job sound interesting. Once everyone started digging in, conversation between the group became pretty sparse until the plates were empty. When the waitress came by to collect the plates, she asked, “Did we leave room for dessert?”
Most of the replies were mumbled “no”s, before Rob’s voice rang out over everyone else’s: “I did! Could I get the brownie sundae, please?”
Now that they had an excuse to stay later and talk, all of the group continued talking about their other plans for that summer. Nadira and Diamond had both secured internships, with Nadira’s in a financial company’s HR department and Diamond working for a local pharmaceutical research company. “Hopefully the next one is paid,” she sighed.
“Hey, with the experience you get from this one, you’re going to be a lot more competitive as an applicant,” Nadira assured her. “You’ll get a paid gig.”
“And that paid gig is a lot more likely to turn into a job than this one is,” Katya chimed in. “It’ll work out for you in the end.”
Rob didn’t have much to add as he savored the decadent sundae he’d ordered. The brownie was as big as the palm of his hand, topped with two scoops of ice cream, plenty of whipped cream, and chocolate syrup drizzled all over the sundae and plate. Jorge, meanwhile, was just as happy to watch Rob eat as he was to contribute to the conversation. He ended up doing more of the former than the latter.
But the dinner couldn’t last forever. Once Rob had eaten the last of his brownie sundae, leaving only the chocolate syrup drizzle that had surrounded it on the plate, the group knew it was time to call it a night. As usual, Katya took care of splitting the bill, with Rob’s portion coming out to nearly twice that of everyone else’s. Once the check was paid, they all made their way out of the restaurant. That time, they didn’t loiter in the parking lot, with everyone agreeing they’d rather get back early and get more sleep.
At least, Katya, Nadira, and Diamond didn’t loiter, once the group had exchanged quick hugs and promised they’d meet up again the next year But before Jorge could walk to his car, he felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder. “Hey Jorge,” he heard in a voice that resembled Rob’s. But it was softer, more genial, with a tone that almost resembled concern.
Turning around, Jorge confirmed it was indeed Rob’s hand on his shoulder, and the unusually sympathetic voice was his. Once they made eye contact, Rob asked, “You okay?”
“Wh-why do you ask?” Jorge asked, caught off guard by the question.
“You seemed awfully quiet back there,” Rob said. “And, I mean…” he stalled with an embarrassed smile, “You gave everyone a hug except me.”
Jorge’s expression, with eyes wide open and mouth agape from the surprise of Rob’s concern, relaxed into a relieved laugh at Rob’s last comment. “Come on,” he sighed as he opened his arms. With smiles on both of their faces, they came close and wrapped their arms around each other with enough force to resemble the manly pats most men hugged each other with. Except their hands stayed on each other’s backs, pulling each other close in their tight embrace.
“I dunno. College can be hard,” Rob said. “I just want to make sure you’re doing okay.”
“Heh. Well, I’m doing a lot better now that I got to see you and everyone else,” Jorge mumbled into Rob’s chest. The height difference between them already made their hugs something of an unequal exchange, but with Rob’s belly bulging out even more now, Jorge had to lean over it to rest on Rob. Not that he particularly minded: to feel Rob’s warm expanse yield gently underneath his own frame made Jorge feel even safer than Rob’s burly arms did on their own. If Rob wanted to, he could have laid his chin on top of Jorge’s head.
But the two separated before that could happen. With relaxed smiles they both gave each other a nod before Rob said, “Same time next year?”
“Of course,” Jorge chuckled.
As he turned away, Rob turned his head back to face Jorge and said, “Message me if you need anything okay? I mean that.”
“Will do,” Jorge said as he turned to his own car. Once he was inside, he closed the door before letting out a lengthy sigh. Whatever he was feeling that night was something he hadn’t felt for Rob before, and it was a lot to take in on what was supposed to be a relaxing night. After sitting still in his car for a moment, he started it up, cranked the AC, and started the drive home.
The meeting after junior year was harder to coordinate than previous years. With everyone in the group but Katya having some sort of internship or summer job, the issue of conflicting schedules reared it’s ugly head in a way that everyone was used to not having to deal with in the summer. But Jorge and Rob had weekends free, Diamond had an easy enough time requesting a Sunday off, and Nadira wasn’t going to let anything, even her internship’s demanding schedule, stand in the way of her seeing her old group again.
It took a while, with the group finally meeting in the middle of August rather than their usual early July. But on a hot summer evening, with the sun still pounding down on him and the AC on max, Jorge drove back home to meet the rest of the group at Pepito’s, a Mexican restaurant none of them had ever thought to try until Rob’s parents told him it was surprisingly good. Jorge had his doubts about their judgement, but he was just happy he’d get to see everyone again.
When Jorge arrived at his destination, he found a building with a surprisingly understated presentation out front. He’d expected the Western looking font on the sign, and cartoony cardboard cutouts of mariachi singers made him roll his eyes. But overall, it seemed like a respectfully designed restaurant. Which was more than Jorge had expected from his hometown. Once Jorge got inside, he found a similar simple interior design, seemingly based more on the geography of Mexico than any stereotypes about its people.
Nadira had of course arrived first, with Diamond and Rob also waiting at the table with her. As soon as Rob saw Jorge, he jolted up from his seat, his arms and eyes both wide open. “Jorge! Good to see you, man!” He was so quick to wrap Jorge up in his embrace that Jorge nearly didn’t have time to take in just how big Rob had grown yet again.
Jutting out from between Rob’s signature unbuttoned short-sleeve button-down shirt was a belly that had grown several inches outward in all directions from the previous year. Rather than a beach ball, it more closely matched the diameter of a pickup truck’s tire. Walking with such an ample belly in front of him left Rob arching his back, allowing his hefty chest to jut out with its own protuberance, as did his equally blubbery love handles, visible as the speed of his walk blew the open sides of his shirt out of the way. His calves looked bigger too, likely plumped up both by how much he was eating and the muscle required to carry all that added weight around. And above it all, his pudgy face looked friendly as ever, especially as he approached Jorge with arms outstretched.
As Rob pulled Jorge in for a hug, Jorge felt like he’d been pushed out of the way by Rob’s belly. But Rob’s beefy arms ensured he wasn’t going anywhere, pulling Jorge close and forcing him to find his balance as he returned Rob’s embrace. Rob’s belly wasn’t as supple as Jorge remembered, now having a firm core that wouldn’t allow him to push himself in as fully as he used to. But Jorge still felt his own scrawny torso sink into Rob’s plush stomach, the surface soft and pliable like a giant pillow on top of a firm mattress. And like that bed, Jorge wouldn’t have minded resting there for all day.
But Jorge had two other friends to greet and catch up with, soon to be three. After giving Rob’s soft chest one last squeeze, he pulled away and looked him in the eyes to say, “Good to see you, man.”
Jorge hugged Nadira and Diamond as well, and the four caught up while snacking on chips and salsa as they waited for Katya to show up. She came in fifteen minutes later, ten minutes after they’d agreed to meet, and slinked over to the table with bags under her eyes. “Hey, everyone. Sorry I’m late,” she said meekly, her accent thickened by her fatigue.
“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Rob assured her.
“Did something happen?” Nadira asked.
“No, I just… don’t have any concept of time anymore,” she chuckled. “I nearly didn’t make it at all because I woke up from a nap and thought it was 6 AM right now, not 6 PM. But, research is like that: the great mysteries of mathematics are going to be there for discovering whether I’m searching for them at 3 PM or 3 AM. My meetings with my professor are the only things forcing me to maintain any sort of schedule, and even those are only once a week.”
“Gosh, I couldn’t work with so little structure,” Rob bemoaned. “You must have a lot of discipline to be able to keep yourself focused like that.”
“Ha!” Katya replied shrilly, not long before the waiter came over and asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Coffee, please,” Katya replied, putting on her best impression of her usual voice before slipping right back into a thicker fatigued accent to tell the group, “But we’re making good progress, and he wants me to keep working with him throughout the semester once it starts. He assures me this will be more than enough to qualify for my senior project.”
Groans of understand emanated across the table as everyone thought about their own senior project. “At least you’re getting that out of the way now,” Nadira said.
“Oh no, we’re just getting started. But he thinks that if this keeps going as well as it is, we could publish the results after I graduate.”
“That’s awesome!” Diamond exclaimed.
“I suppose. Right now, I’m too neck deep to even be thinking about it. I need to get as much done as I can before the semester starts. But, I wasn’t going to miss coming out for this,” she said as she tilted her tired head up, smiling at the rest of the group before taking a chip and dipping it in the salsa. “So what are you all up to? Something you’re getting paid for, I hope?”
Uncomfortable laughter emanated from around the table. With Jorge having yet to share with the group, he was the first to speak up. “Well, I’m interning at Davidson Corp. It’s one of those companies that manufactures a whole bunch of products you probably know by their specific brand names, and maybe you’ve heard of the company before. But you wouldn’t know they had their fingers in so many industries unless you went to work for them. At least, I didn’t.”
“Sounds pretty nifty,” Rob commented.
“It’s better than working at the pizza place, for sure.”
“Maybe you could stay with them part-time throughout the school year,” Nadira chimed in. “A lot of places are doing that now.”
“I mean, in your shoes, I’d probably miss the free food from the pizza place,” Rob added. “But if you’re happier there, that would be awesome.”
“Would be, yeah,” Jorge agreed. “Also, I’m making double per hour what I was at the pizza place. It’s more than enough to make up for the free food,” Jorge chuckled. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m not even sure why I got the job in the first place.”
“What do you mean?” Diamond asked.
“I mean, who am I? Just some kid with okay grades and no relevant work experience from a decent engineering college. And I got picked above everyone else? I bet the school was pulling some strings behind the scenes to get me in.”
Everyone else at the table spoke over each other to try to assure Jorge that couldn’t be the case, for all the good it did. As the din died down, the waiter came over and asked if group would like to put in some appetizers. “Oh, yes,” Nadira replied, as caught off guard as everyone else. “We’re going to get the loaded nachos and cheese quesadillas to share.”
“And I’ll have the chicken quesadillas,” Rob added, before the waiter walked off to put in their order. “Jorge,” he continued in a quieter voice. “Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome?”
“It’s this thing where you don’t believe you’ve earned your successes. Rather, you think you got as far as you have by fooling everyone into thinking you’re more competent than you actually are. And you worry that one day, they’re going to figure it out, and your whole ruse will be uncovered.”
Uncomfortable as always with being the center of attention, Jorge let his gaze wander around the table, where it passed over Diamond. From her raised eyebrows and eyelids as she stared at Rob, she seemed to be having her own moment of realization.
“But the key is, it’s all in your head. You did actually earn that success.”
“Oh, well then that doesn’t apply to me,” Jorge said, prompting Rob to sigh and roll his eyes. “What, you think it does?”
“No one gives internships out of pity, Jorge. Especially not paid ones. They chose you because you were the best candidate.”
Looking around and seeing everyone’s eyes on him, Jorge sunk into his seat, as if he might escape their stares. Rob seemed to pick up on that, as he quickly concluded with, “Anyway, just give it some thought.”
Conversation moved on to other topics from there, but Jorge didn’t pay much attention or contribute much to them. After having all eyes on him like that, he preferred to just sit back and let everyone else talk, until the appetizers came and the waiter took their orders for dinner. Once Jorge’s attention was drawn to the food, he had an easier time getting back into the swing of things, and the evening passed pleasantly as they moved on from appetizers to their meals.
“Yeah, well, even if this internship doesn’t work out, at least it’s relevant experience that I can put on my résumé for when I apply to other places. I’m sure they’ll be more impressed by that than me working at a pizza place,” he chuckled as his eyes wandered to watch Rob wolf down his carne asada with a side of pupusas. Like during their previous summer rendezvous, Jorge was amazed at just how voraciously Rob could eat. As long as he had food in front of him, he could shovel it all in at a near-constant pace, keeping his mouth full almost continuously and leaving Jorge wondering when he had time to breath.
“What if they do offer you a job?” Katya asked. “Would you want to work there?”
“Heh, I wouldn’t mind that. My coworkers are pretty awesome. We’ll see if it happens, though,” After their previous reunion dinner, Jorge wasn’t as captivated by Rob’s ravenous munching. He still enjoyed watching, but not so much that he was distracted from the conversation. “Then again…” Jorge continued, the tone of his voice having risen. “My boss did say he liked my résumé in particular because I had experience working in a pizza place. He said it showed I have work ethic, because you can’t get away with pretending to be busy in a job like that.”
“There you go. Who said it’s not relevant experience?”
With a chuckle, Jorge picked up his drink to take a sip, gazing at Rob over the edge of his cup to watch him shove half of a pupusa into his mouth.
The group stayed at Pepito’s nearly until closing, with Rob ordering fried ice cream for dessert and flan after that, giving the group extra time to talk. But once Rob was too full to eat anything else, they had to call it night. After Katya took care of splitting the bill and everyone had paid, they all got up to go their separate ways. It took some grunting and pushing on Rob’s part, but soon he was up as well, following the group outside the restaurant.
Jorge fell back to walk side-by-side with Rob. As full as he was, Rob had to lean back extra far to accommodate his expanded stomach and his shifted center of gravity. His arms didn’t swing so widely at his side, but rather stuck out farther, like all that food in his stomach was pushing them out of the way. As Rob moved, Jorge swore he could hear him breathing more heavily. But in spite of how full he was, his belly was too big to not bounce as they walked outside.
The group didn’t loiter outside for long, not with how late they’d stayed inside. With hugs all around, everyone promised they’d do it again the next summer, no matter what it took. They also promised to do it earlier in the summer, before their post-graduation lives got too hectic. Jorge went around hugging Nadira, Diamond, and Katya first, who all split from the group with haste, citing how early they’d have to be awake the next day. That left Rob and Jorge standing alone in the parking lot. Without missing a beat, Jorge assured Rob, “I didn’t forget about you this time.” As a smile spread across his face, Rob raised his arms to envelop Jorge.
With both men quite tired from their filling meals, they wrapped each other gently in their embrace. Rob’s belly felt warmer, but also firmer, pushing against Jorge’s stomach as he leaned in. But Jorge pressed on anyways, as Rob wrapped his arms around him tighter still. With how far Jorge had to lean to prop his body over Rob’s gut, his head landed just low enough on Rob’s chest for Rob to rest his chin on Jorge’s head. As Jorge nestled into the space Rob had created, he let out a low, quiet, pleased “Mmmm,” a sentiment and utterance Rob returned in kind.
Jorge wasn’t sure how long they stood out there; all he knew was that it wasn’t long enough. After what seemed simultaneously like an eternity and like an instant, Rob loosened his arms and lifted his chin, prompting Jorge to pull away as well. “Hey,” Rob said, sounding almost stern, causing Jorge to look up with wide eyes. “I’m glad you messaged me when you were having a hard time earlier this year.”
After looking down with his eyes closed, Jorge looked back up and gave Rob a smile. “I’m glad you were there to listen.”
“And see? Everything worked out in the end. You got that internship after all. Things will work out for you.”
Jorge had heard similar platitudes from countless sources before: his parents, his advisors, his teachers and professors. And they never managed to comfort him. He knew too many people who seemed to do everything right, who were doing way more than him to build a good life for themselves, and still ended up with the short end of the stick. But when Rob said it, somehow, he believed it.
“Yeah… maybe so.”
Though the two had separated from their hug, they still stood with Rob’s arms on Jorge’s shoulders. With a smile, Rob gave Jorge some reassuring pats and let his arms fall at his side. “See you next year?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Jorge assured him.
In spite of the group’s best efforts, it wasn’t until the October after graduation that they were able to meet again. With most of the group working full-time, while Katya was attending grad school, coordinating schedules became a problem yet again. It took until Diamond had been working full-time for her company long enough to earn her first vacation day for the group to find a Saturday when everyone was free to meet again. Jorge’s propensity to work weekends at Davidson Corp didn’t help matters either. After working there part-time throughout his senior year, he’d built up the clout to be assigned to some pretty major projects, projects that had him willingly coming in on the weekends because they were so exciting. But he’d managed to tear himself away for a Saturday when everyone else was free.
The group had agreed to meet at Jade Room, a Chinese buffet in nearby town. Jorge wasn’t a huge fan of Chinese food, but he was a fan of watching Rob eat. And the prospect of watching him eat at a place where there was no limit to how much food he could put on his plate was quite sufficient to sway him.
The group agreed to meet at 5:00, hoping to beat the crowds and have more time to talk. After all, though no one said it outright, there was an undercurrent of understanding that that night could be the last time they could all meet up like that. Nadira and Diamond both had to fly in and stay with their family due to moving for work, while Rob had to get another IT tech to cover for his on-call shift that weekend. It was those logistics that weighed most on Jorge’s mind as he pulled into the Jade Room parking lot. He tried to look on the bright side, that he was getting to see all his old friends again, but the shadow of that probably being their last time meeting as a group still hung over his head.
Jorge found Nadira and Diamond waiting at the table, and exchanged hugs with both of them. Katya showed up soon after, seemingly having developed better sleep habits with classes and tutoring giving her more of a schedule than she’d had the last time the group met up. Rob showed up soon after, allowing the whole group to reunite in what seemed like record time. Of course, as soon as Rob walked in the door, the last thing Jorge cared about was how punctual he was.
It seemed that senior year had been Rob’s biggest and best year in a lot of ways. From the group chat, they already knew his grades were the best they’d ever been, coming out of the semester with straight-A’s. He’d worked part time at the company where he did his summer internship the year before, which gave him the experience to secure an even better job starting right after graduation. His senior project had turned into a research paper that him and his professor had co-authored and published. And it seemed he’d been enjoying the all-you-can-eat dining hall and those pizza nights as much as ever.
As Rob walked into the restaurant that night, he moved with a lot of the same accommodations he’d had to make to carry his stuffed belly out of Pepito’s the year before. But now, he had to walk that way on an empty stomach. His stride was shorter than it had been previously, his arms stuck out extra far at his sides, and he had to arch his back to balance all the extra weight he’d put on in front. All of which served to accentuate just how massive he’d grown, and drew Jorge’s gaze so intently that he felt like he couldn’t look away.
Rob was now wider than possibly anyone else Jorge had seen with his own two eyes. It started from the top, where his head had grown so fat that his beard had grown wider. His cheeks were so bulbous that they formed creases where they met his mouth, bulging out from his face while sporting a beard thick enough to hide what must have been a massive double chin. Underneath, the two lobes of his chest pushed out against his shirt, seeming overdue for a size upgrade, with enough heft to rival some of the starter bellies on display that night. He walked in carried by burly calves that demonstrated that carrying around several hundred pounds of flab was a better workout than any exercise a gym could devise. His arms had grown so flabby that Jorge couldn’t wait to be wrapped up in.
Of course, that was assuming Jorge could lean over Rob’s belly far enough to come in for a hug. As big as it was, that was far from a given. It was hard for Jorge to estimate just how far out front it stuck out, but on the sides, it had grown out past Rob’s shoulders. With the approximate diameter and roundness of a yoga ball, it pushed Rob’s unbuttoned shirt to the side to proudly reveal the full extent of its girth. As he walked at his surprisingly quick pace, possibly carried ahead by momentum, his belly bounced along with his jubilant jaunt. Every time one of his feet hit the ground, it sprung up and down, jiggling in its entirety in spite of how big it was.
“Hey everyone!” Rob greeted, his voice having taken on a new huskiness to match the heaviness of his body. Everyone returned his greeting, and they all made their way around the table to hug him. However, the other three didn’t seem to be quite sure how best hug Rob at his new size, resulting in him having to bend down to reach them, before pushing against them to regain his balance.
But Jorge knew better. With a somewhat embarrassed smile, worried that Rob might have seen him staring to blatantly, he approached Rob and stood on his toes before leaning right up against his mammoth belly. With all of Jorge’s efforts, Rob barely had to lean down at all to hug him, wrapping him up in his arms as easily as he had during their first reunion dinner. Jorge let himself fall back on his heels, while Rob leaned down just enough to keep up. Rob seemed to find the position just as comfortable as Jorge, as they remained in each other’s embrace for a solid few seconds, much longer than Rob had hugged any of the other three.
Once the two separated, the whole group discussed their options for dinner. It didn’t take much discussion for everyone to agree they’d eat from the buffet rather than ordering off the menu, much to Katya’s relief. After ordering drinks, everyone got up to go fill their plates. Rob returned last, with his plate stacked twice as high with food as everyone else’s. Jorge had a feeling Rob would still be returning to the buffet more times than anyone else.
“So Katya,” Nadira started. “What’s grad school like? Since you’re the only one here who went back.”
“A lot like senior year, actually. Except I’m getting a stipend, meaning they’re paying me to go to school. Which is a nice change of pace,” she concluded before taking a bite of her chicken broccoli stir fry.
“So how did you decide on grad school rather than working?” Diamond asked. “I’ve been thinking myself about whether I should go back.”
“Because academia is the only place where they’ll pay me to do pure math. Everywhere else wants me to do something useful with it,” she chuckled. “What about you? What are you working on that you think you already need to go back?”
“Well,” she started before she put her fork down. “I’m not sure how much of it I can actually talk about it. It’s a medication for the treatment of malaria. What we’re hoping for is that it will be cheap to manufacture, so it can be sent in bulk to areas where the disease is common.”
“That’s awesome!” Jorge exclaimed.
“Yeah, my team is doing some really awesome stuff. But… I dunno. Sometimes I feel like they have to prop me up, rather than the other way around. I’ve had to do a lot of on-the-job training, and it still feels like they’re making tasks for me to do, rather than me helping them out in a meaningful way.”
“Diamond, um,” Nadira chimed in with a smile on her face. “Everyone feels like that.”
“Yeah. Some of the people I’m managing were hired at the same time as me, and they still feel like they don’t have a handle on the job. But they’re doing fine. And let me tell you, HR work is a lot simpler than what you’re working on.”
“Wait,” Rob said through a mouthful of scallion pancake, before swallowing it so he could speak more clearly. “People you… manage?”
“Oh yeah. I applied for a position in HR at this one company, but with all my internships and my leadership experience in clubs, they felt like I could do more. So I went through a trial period for three months, where I was doing regular HR stuff and occasionally taking the lead on tasks, and that gave them the confidence to promote me.”
“Are you really surprised?” Katya chuckled. “She’s already the group mom. Now she’s getting paid to do it.”
“Oh, you,” Nadira said before taking a bite of her vegetables.
Conversation was generally of that tone between the group for the rest of the night. Everyone had their own struggles with acclimating to what was ostensibly adulthood, but everyone seemed to be happy with where they were. At least, everyone but Rob. Not because he seemed unhappy with where he was, but because he kept his plate and his mouth too full to add much to the conversation except nods of acknowledgement.
And just like Jorge had predicted, Rob went up to the buffet five times total over the course of the night, stacking his plate high with food every time. Katya had gone up the most out of anyone else, three times total, with the third being just for a small plate of dessert samples. By the end of the night, Rob was eating at a more standard pace, and adding more to the conversation than just nods. But he still kept eating, up until the group decided to call it a night.
Once the check had been settled, split evenly five different ways, everyone got up to head to the door. All except Rob, who pushed his chair back with a sigh before looking up to Jorge and saying, “A little help?” Jorge looked at him confusedly, until Rob lifted a hand up toward Jorge. At that Jorge said, “Oh,” and grabbed Rob’s hand in his own, before pulling against it.
It took a lot of strength on Jorge’s part to not be pulled down by the force of Rob’s weight as he tried to lift himself up. But Jorge adopted a sideways stance and kept his arm firm while leaning against his back leg. With his help, after much groaning and grunting, Rob got out of his chair. But rather than let go, Rob kept Jorge’s hand in the warm grasp of his own soft fingers. After letting out a sigh from the effort, he looked up, met Jorge’s gaze, and smiled. Jorge, ever easily embarrassed, withdrew his hand with a sheepish expression. At that, Rob’s grin faded momentarily, before he smiled again and said, “Thanks.” With a healthy distance between them, the two walked out together to join the rest of the group.
Nadira, Diamond, and Katya were all loitering outside of the entrance to the Jade Room, looking inside as they waited for Jorge and Rob to join them. Once the whole group was together, there was a tense silence, as everyone looked around at each other with forced smiles.
“I guess this is goodbye,” Katya finally blurted out, causing everyone else’s smiles to immediately wilt.
“Does it have to be? We could make this happen again, right?” Jorge asked, trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
“It was hard enough to organize this one,” Nadira said. “With two of us having to fly in. And who knows if you three will still be living nearby when we want to do this again.”
“We still have the group chat,” Diamond chimed in. “It definitely makes me feel a lot less like I’m missing out on having you guys in my life.”
“Yeah,” Rob agreed. “It’s not like we’re never going to hear from each other again after this.”
“Look, let’s not act like this is definitely going to be the last one,” Jorge suggested. “Anything can happen. If we did it this time, what’s to stop us from doing it again?”
“Cost of plane tickets,” Nadira said.
“Incompatible work schedules,” Diamond added.
“All of us drifting farther away,” Katya mumbled, like even she didn’t want to admit it could happen.
The group was silent for a while longer before Nadira found a way to end the night: “Group hug?” she asked with arms outstretched.
No one disagreed with that idea. As the group embraced, Rob’s bulbous belly forced itself into the middle, like a maypole for the group to assemble around. Everyone in the group got equal hug action, as no one could gravitate toward the center with Rob’s gut in the way. But Jorge was just happy to be pressed up against the side of Rob’s stuffed belly. A part of him wondered if the other three had the same appreciation for it, but mostly he was just glad to get a feeling of that belly against his own stomach. He just wished he could have been in front.
Once the group separated, Nadira was the first to say, “Well, I really need to get going.”
“It’s been fun, guys.” Diamond mumbled in agreement and walked of to her car too.
Jorge looked at Katya and said, “Until next time?”
“Sure,” she said in an ambiguous tone, before walking off.
That left Rob and Jorge standing in front of the Jade Room together. As they both stood like they were still facing into the center of the group, their eyes flitted from each other to the ground around them. Even making the eye contact required to say goodbye was too much for Jorge.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Rob offered. When Jorge looked up to meet his gaze, Rob flashed a tired smile. It seemed he didn’t want to say goodbye anymore than Jorge did.
But Jorge nodded, and turned to walk to his car. As he strolled ahead, he tried desperately to think of something to say, something that could extend the time they had together, or at least something that could be a fitting end to what might be the last time he saw Rob. In his nervousness, he walked at a faster pace than usual, and didn’t realize it until he heard Rob call out, “Hey, wait up!”
Turning around, Jorge saw Rob ambling toward him at a much slower pace than Jorge could walk. His stance was extra wide and his stride was even shorter, as his arms stuck out even farther at his sides than they had before. Due to his stance, leaning back even farther than he had as he walked into the restaurant, his head leaned back with a sideways tilt as his mouth hung agape. And his belly, thrust forward by his arched back, was peeking out from under the bottom of his tee shirt, giving Jorge a glimpse of the soft, flabby mass underneath the firm globe.
“You okay?” Jorge asked.
With a chuckle, Rob answered, “I can’t move that fast with this much Chinese food in me.”
For the first time since they left the restaurant, Jorge cracked a smile, looking down with a chuckle before looking back up with his hand behind his neck. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.
“Heh, don’t be,” Rob told him. “I probably look pitiful right now,” he chuckled, betraying that he really didn’t feel ashamed about how much he’d eaten.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Jorge assured him, having a hard time taking his eyes off of Rob’s globular midsection. “I’m more…” he stalled, taking a deep breath before he continued, “impressed than anything else.”
Looking Jorge straight on, Rob let out a “Hmm” that conveyed something between amusement and genuine appreciation.
Once Rob caught up to where Jorge stood, Jorge put his hand on Rob’s back and said, “Come on, let me help you out.”
With his smile widening like his belly, Rob lugged his arm on top of Jorge’s shoulders. “So much for me walking you to your car,” he said as he held on to Jorge for support.
“What do you mean?” Jorge asked facetiously. “You’re doing a great job.”
“Aww,” Rob uttered before pulling Jorge even closer. Feeling Rob’s burly arm on his shoulders had already a highlight of the night, but to feel that arm pull him into Rob’s torso, where his love handles were much more yielding than his gut had been, made Jorge feel like he was right at home. Even as close as they were, Jorge was just barely able to reach around Rob’s back to wrap his hand around the side of Rob’s belly, under where his chest ended. Rob chuckled as he felt Jorge nestle into that crook, looking down to give him a smile before looking ahead to make sure they were headed in the right direction.
Once they got to Jorge’s car, Rob walked Jorge around to the driver’s side, where a car’s worth of space between his car and the next one over gave the two plenty of room to stand side-by-side. Once they were by the door, Rob used his arm to move Jorge around himself so the two were facing each other.
“Well… this is it,” Rob said, voice heavy with disappointment, like he didn’t want it to end any more than Jorge did. After the brief but wonderful walk they’d just shared, Jorge supposed that wasn’t so unbelievable.
“Does it… have to be?” Jorge asked, bringing his hands back up around Rob’s torso where his right hand had lain before. As big as Rob’s belly was, he could barely reach the side of Rob’s stomach to hold him. But his hands came to rest where he wanted them, and he looked up at Rob with pleading eyes.
Rob’s expression wasn’t quite so desperate, making Jorge think he’d come off as overeager. In his embarrassment, he tiled his head down, as his smile vanished and his eyelids drooped. At least until he felt Rob’s fingers on the bottom of his chin, lifting his head up to look Rob in the eyes again. Rob’s eyebrows were raised in an expression that looked sympathetic to Jorge’s yearning. As his hands shifted to rest on Jorge’s shoulders, fingers curled around to rest on his back, thus pulling the two even closer, Rob whispered, “No. It doesn’t have to be.”
As Jorge looked up into Rob’s eyes, with both men’s mouth hanging open, he thought he understood what Rob meant. Rob leaned toward him, pulling on his shoulders to close the gap between them as he tilted his belly down, giving Jorge less of an obstacle to lean over. Jorge wrapped his arms around Rob’s chest and pulled himself closer as well, intent on making the space between them disappear. As both of their eyes closed, he knew he understood what Rob meant.
The meeting of their lips made both men’s arms contract even more tightly, wanting nothing more than to be closer to each other in this moment when they’d finally let themselves have what their desires wanted. After synchronized rounds of their lips puckering out to meet one another, Rob’s breathing grew heavier as his lips locked with Jorge’s, no longer retreating after one touch. For once, Jorge’s own breath hastened to match his heavier counterpart’s. The longer their lips locked, the heavier his breathing became.
While the two remained in each other’s grasp, Rob moved them closer to Jorge’s car, until Jorge felt his back against the driver side door. He then felt Rob’s gut become much heavier against his own stomach, pushing more and more of his weight into Jorge until Jorge fell back against the car, letting out a grunt as his and Rob’s lips separated. With Rob’s belly holding him in place, he couldn’t lean forward far enough to resume their kiss.
“You like that?” Rob asked, his voice approaching a growling tone. As he asked, he leaned closer to Jorge, pinning him against the car window under weight of his massive, hulking gut.
After letting out a moan, Jorge looked up with eyes and mouth both hanging half-open. “Yes,” he whispered, too overwhelmed to summon much more volume than that.
Rob’s open mouth curled into a toothy grin, before Jorge felt’s Rob’s belly rub against his torso. The ponderous mass seemed to be descending, almost pulling Jorge down with it. But Rob was just leaning forward over his own gut, rotating it out of the way until their lips met yet again.
With no room to wrap his arms around Jorge’s shoulders, Rob instead put his palms on top of Jorge’s car, propping himself up so Jorge wouldn’t feel crushed. But Jorge still felt plenty of weight on top of him as he wrapped his arms around Rob’s chest to pull himself closer. As their lips parted, their tongues ventured past their own lips and towards the other’s. They flicked against each other like the two were still flirting and testing the waters, not like Rob had heaved all his 400+ pounds against Jorge and pinned him in place.
The two kept it up until Rob got a bit too enthusiastic about pushing himself into Jorge, at which point he felt like he couldn’t breath. Jorge groaned in distress and tapped the side of Rob’s chest, at which Rob pushed himself up. Jorge could feel the car behind him tilt to the side with all the force against it. “What’s wrong?” Rob asked between heavy, labored breaths.
Trying to catch his own breath, Jorge gasped, “I need to breathe, you know.”
With a chuckle, Rob looked down in mild embarrassment, before looking up and leaning in for one last peck. After that, he pushed himself off the car and back into a standing position, stepping back to give Jorge the room to regain his own balance.
“So, uh… how far away do you live, exactly?” Rob asked.
“Just 30 minutes up north.”
“Really? Because I live about an hour north of here.”
As his mouth remained open from panting, Jorge’s lips curled into a smile and asked, “Coffee some time?”
“I think we can just skip right to dinner,” Rob said as he started rubbing his own belly. His manner suggested it could have been absentmindedly, but by then, Jorge knew better than to think Rob didn’t know what he was doing. “I’ll message you figure out a date.”
“A date for our date?”
After a loud exhalation, Rob tilted his head down to look at Jorge over the rims of imaginary glasses, but a smirk still seemed to be peeking through amidst his beard. Rather than saying anything, he simply walked up to Jorge and leaned down to give him a hug and a kiss, this one lasting a few seconds, before he stood back up and said, “I’ll see you soon.”
Jorge stood in place watching Rob amble over to his car, having a hard time taking his eyes off of his overfed friend, or possibly boyfriend now. Either way, he watched Rob go until there were too many cars between them for him to see, at which point he unlocked his car and sat inside. He didn’t start the car, merely locking the door and sitting in the driver’s seat as he held onto the steering while, like something to ground him and remind him this was real. He could still taste Rob’s kiss, and miraculously, it didn’t taste like grease and soy sauce.