Originally published May 4, 2018.
Contains: instant weight gain, physical intimacy.
My original foray into the “Fattened Fairy Tales” series, started by TommyKat with his story Fattened Fairy Tales – The Gingerbeard Man, was a take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears called Gordolocks. About a year later, almost to the date (pure coincidence), I posted Fattened Fairy Tales – Harold and Greg, a taken on Hansel and Gretel that ended up slightly darker than Gordolocks. And now, I return to the Fattened Fairy Tales, to give my take on Cinderella.
What gave me the idea for this story was thinking about my recent commission by FutoBara on his FutoBeans account, of myself transforming into a fat biker. Thinking about a story that involved such a transformation was how I got the idea for a story about a man who gets transformed into a fat, bearded biker so he can enjoy a night of fun at an LGBT-friendly dance party. Then the Cinderella angle came in, and it became a matter of him transforming not just to try a new look, but also to avoid being recognized by his brothers, who could be there. That, plus trying to make the Cinderella myth fit with modern times, lead to this story. (Also, keep your eye out for a familiar character from one of my previous stories.)
Zander closed his apartment door slowly after another long day of cooking at the local greasy spoon. He locked the door behind him before leaning back against it with a long sigh. After pushing himself off of the door, he walked toward his bedroom to toss his apron in his hamper to wash with the night’s laundry.
“Hey,” his roommate Omar said from the couch, game controller in hand and eyes glued to the TV.
“Hey,” Zander returned much less enthusiastically.
“You want in?”
“Nah, I’ll just watch tonight.” After tossing his apron in the hamper, he kicked off his shoes and undid his belt so he could get at least moderately comfortable. He then joined Omar in the living room, before landing on the couch with an audible thud and a loud sigh.
“Yeah. Boss chewed me out again for flinching when the other chefs yell. As if that isn’t going to make me even more nervous at the grill.”
“Still better than how my stepmom treated me.”
The two were silent while Omar pumped hostile aliens full of bullets until they hit the ground. After a break in the battle, as Omar looted the bodies, he finally said, “You know, given everything you’ve told me about your stepmom, I think ‘better than how she treated you’ is even lower than the bare minimum of what you should expect from people. Especially your boss.”
“Mmm, maybe you’re right. But at least it pays the rent.”
“Have you been applying for better cooking jobs like I told you to?”
“Yeah. They all want someone with more experience. I guess spending more than a decade cooking at the orders of your stepmom and older siblings doesn’t count as experience with cooking in a high pressure environment.”
“They might have a point, considering I seem to be more sensitive to pressure than the average cook, not less.”
Omar let out a frustrated sigh. “Are you sure you don’t want to… you know… talk to a… professional about this?”
“Want to, sure, and then pay them with what money?”
Another sigh escaped Omar’s mouth before he asked, “Have you tried applying for positions other than cook? Maybe something that pays better? I mean, what did you major in?”
Zander took a deep inhalation and sunk a little deeper into the couch. Though he and Omar had lived together for nearly a year by then, he had only just started opening up to his roommate about his home life. And it seemed that in all that time, he’d neglected to mention… “I never went to college.”
A long pause passed between the two before Omar merely replied with, “Oh.”
“My stepmom used the wealth she inherited from my dad to pay for Drew and Andre to go to college, and gave them some rather generous sums as graduation gifts to help them get their footing after they moved out. By the time Andre graduated, she claimed there was nothing left in the pot for me. Told me to not even bother applying to schools because I wouldn’t be able to pay for them. Even helped me trick my high school teachers into thinking I was applying for schools, with fake letter of recommendation forms and everything.”
“I knew I had to get out once I graduated high school. So I snuck out to interview for chef jobs, seeing it was the only real skill I had. She never let me get a part-time job during high school because she ‘needed me around the house to help’, so I never even picked up something basic like waiting tables. Once I landed the job, I saw your ad in the paper looking for a roommate, and I immediately ran away from home. And, well, here we are.”
Looking at the screen, Zander could see that Omar was playing more recklessly than he usually did. He was spraying the crowds of aliens with ammo instead of aiming for their weak spots like he usually did. He kept emptying clips into the dead aliens until he was forced to reload. And even though the crowd he was up against didn’t look particularly challenging, his face seemed to be fuming with rage.
“So imagine my surprise when I find out that after I moved out, she started employing hired help to help her around the house and started attending parties with the upper crust around town, all funded by the money from my dad that she had after all.”
A lengthy scream announced that Omar’s character had died, before the camera switched from his perspective to a third-person one to look upon his body. The continue screen asked Omar whether he wanted to try again or quit, but he neglected to make any sort of decision. Instead, he sat on the couch with the controller having fallen into his lap, his two hands balled up in front of his mouth. His eyes were closed, and Zander could hear his heavy breathing clashing against his hands.
“You, uh… think maybe you should take a break–”
“Your stepmom…” Omar interrupted, shaking with anger but speaking with a low voice. “Is unequivocally one of the most awful people who walks on this planet. I can’t think of any other way to describe her that doesn’t use the word ‘cunt’.”
“Hey, that’s still family you’re talking about. Can you maybe tone it down a bit?”
“No I can’t! Family who treats you like that doesn’t deserve the ‘that’s family’ defense.”
“Look, she was just doing her best with what she–”
“No. Stop it.” Turning toward Zander with a serious expression on his face, Omar continued, “Listen, Zander, you’re not obligated to defend your upbringing. Acknowledging that your upbringing was shit doesn’t mean acknowledging that you’re shit. You can be a worthwhile person in spite of your upbringing. And from what you’ve described, that’s exactly what happened.”
Zander still felt the instinctive desire to defend his stepmom, even though everything Omar was saying made sense. Sure, he could talk about all the ways she treated him badly, but that didn’t give someone else the right to talk badly about her. Right?
“You know what? I will tag in,” Zander said as he reached for the second controller.
“Awesome. Because the more you tell me about your stepmom, the more I can feel my blood pressure rising.”
“Don’t be. Your stepmom is the terrible person. Not you.”
Zander had to stop himself from correcting Omar again.
“At least you’re out of her house. It can only go up for you from here. I’m certain.”
“Hey, living well is the best revenge.”
“I think it would just be a nice change of pace.”
“Um, Henry,” Luis called out while looking at the online invitation his son had placed for his first party.
“Yes, father,” Henry returned with the same sarcasm he used when saying anything that might distinguish him and his family as part of the upper crust.
“When I said you ought to start hosting your own get-togethers to help you network with other families of our prestige and possibly find a suitable husband… this isn’t what I had in mind.”
“Oh I’m sure it isn’t. But come now, dad, it’s 2018. Times are changing.”
“I understand that, my son,” Luis stammered. “But are they really changing so much that we can afford to be associated with an event like… like this?” Turning his tablet around to push the announcement in Henry’s face, Luis held it there as if Henry would be surprised by an invitation he’d designed himself.
“If we can’t, father, I think that say more about us than it does about those invited.”
“Oh yes, of course. I’m just old fashioned because I don’t want our family fortune to go toward…” Turning the laptop back around, he continued, “‘’Queer Bash’. What kind of name is that? We’ll sound like homophobes, and a family of our stature can’t afford to have a reputation for being homophobic.”
“It’s an inside joke for the gays, father.”
With a lengthy inhalation, Luis continued, “And with our good name backing you up, you intend to host, ‘A night for freaks, geeks, queers, misfits, and those of us who aren’t straight and narrow enough for the straight and narrow. 18+, free entry.’ Have you lost your mind?!”
“You think we should open it to all ages? Good idea, young kids need a way to feel like part of the community. Of course, we’ll have to overhaul the nature of the party to make it friendly for–”
“Free entry?! You’re going to let every Tom, Dick, and Harry walk in off the street to one of our parties?”
“Well, hopefully only the interesting ones show up.”
Luis let his tablet fall on the table with the blitheness of someone who could buy another one as easily as most people buy a cup of coffee. “Whatever, I can’t stop you. Hopefully you realize the error of your ways after this first one.”
“All I can wish for you, father, is the same thing,” Henry said with a grin, causing his father to storm off.
“Well look at you!” Zander exclaimed as he came home to find Omar wearing khaki pants and a tailored, pastel pink polo shirt, with his jet black hair styled into a faux hawk. “Looking like the Arabian Zac Efron!”
“You like? I hope it’s not too dressy for Queer Bash, but I dunno, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going in something more showy, and the whole point of an event like that is to dress to express, not impress, you know?”
“Sorry, uh… ‘Queer Bash’?”
“You don’t know about Queer Bash? It’s this queer- and trans-friendly party hosted by some asshole rich guy’s son who wants to use his inherited money and influence to troll his dad. It’s also just a great party. You should come!”
“Oh… I don’t know…”
“Come on. You’re off shift now, you don’t have to be in early tomorrow. And besides, rumor has it the guy’s son hosts these parties in hopes of finding someone to marry. Maybe you could be the lucky guy. That would really stick it to your stepmom!” Omar enthused. Zander, however, was less comfortable with the idea, especially at the mention of his stepmom. As he crossed his arms in front of his chest, Omar seemed to pick up on that. “What’s wrong?”
With a deep breath, Zander said, “Both of my brothers liked guys too. Drew was bi, and Andre was gay, so…”
After Zander let out a long exhalation, Omar filled in, “You’re worried they’ll be there and recognize you?”
“She might even be there, trying to shop them around, get them in good with the guy’s father.” Omar’s wide eyes demonstrated his understanding of how bad running into his stepmom could be for Zander better than any words could. “I haven’t seen her since I ran away to move in with you.”
Putting his chin in his hand, Omar thought for a while before asking, “What if they didn’t recognize you?”
“There’s an idea. You own any costumes? Maybe a masquerade mask?”
“I can do you one better. Do you trust me?” Omar asked in a surprisingly grave tone.
“Wh–why are you asking like that?”
“Come on. This’ll be better to do where you can see yourself,” Omar said, beckoning Zander to follow him into his bedroom.
Omar’s bedroom was noticeably messier than Zander’s, though Zander never looked down on Omar for that. After all, Zander’s cleanliness habits came from a lifetime of being forced to keep an entire house clean for a family of four. Keeping a bedroom clean and being half-responsible for keeping an apartment for two clean was easy in comparison. Against one of the walls of Omar’s bedroom was what had brought the two in there: a full-length mirror, which Omar instructed Zander to stand in front of.
Zander didn’t spend a lot of time looking in mirrors, mostly because he was never particularly happy with what he saw in them. Looking back at him was a scrawny man with shaggy, shoulder-length, black hair that was oily from a day in the kitchen. His beard had grown beyond five o’clock shadow, and he knew he had to shave it soon. After all, if he let it grow, it just turned into a gnarled mess that invited comparisons to a much less flattering part of his body. Complete with a gaunt face looking back at him disapprovingly, he just wanted Omar to get whatever he had planned over with as soon as possible.
“Now tell me, what were you most jealous of when it came to your brothers?”
“I would say the fact that mom treated them well… but that only happened because they joined with her in bullying me. She always wanted a girl, to the point of convincing my dad to change my middle name to a girl’s name: Ella. Zander Ella. But I still couldn’t be that girl she wanted, and she definitely resented me for that. My brothers picked up on that and saw the opportunity to align themselves against me, and thus with her.”
“Okay, that really sucks on your brothers’ part. But how about ways they made you jealous that didn’t involve your stepmom?”
“Oh, their size for sure. They were both built like football players, big in all the right places with the strength to back it up. They… definitely used it against me.”
“So you’d like to be big like them?”
“No… not exactly. I’d like to be big and strong, but also approachable. Someone who looks like they’ll use their strength to protect you, not hurt you.”
“Like a fat biker.”
“I… you know what?, yes, exactly. Burly arms and a manly beard, but a big belly that looks like it would be nice to snuggle up against. A tough guy who looks like he gives great hugs. It would be perfect.”
“Alright, I’ll tell you what: do you have any button-down shirts?”
“I, uh, I think so.”
“Go change out of that tee shirt into one of those, then.”
It seemed like such a random command, but Zander didn’t have anything better to do. After going into his room and fishing through his closed for the white button-down he’d worn to all his job interviews, he threw his tee shirt in the hamper and put on the button-down, buttoning it as he walked back to Omar’s room. “What does this have to do with me being jealous of my brothers, anyway. Or hiding my identity for Queer Bash?”
“You’ll see,” Omar promised. “Oh, don’t waste your time buttoning it. In fact, it’s better if you leave it unbuttoned.”
Looking suspiciously at Omar, Zander undid the buttons of the shirt, providing a glimpse of his flat, undefined torso.
“Alright, now I need you to look in the mirror,” Omar commanded, prompting Zander to look again at the sight he didn’t particularly like seeing.
“Why is the mirror so important to this?”
“So that you can see the process for yourself and understand what’s happening.
Process? Omar was making less and less sense the more he talked. But Zander followed his directions and looked at himself in the mirror. And then, before his eyes, things seemed to start changing, in ways that had him wondering if he’d worked too long and was starting to hallucinate.
For one, his belly looked like it was swelling out from between his shirt, like someone had stuck a bicycle pump down his throat and started pumping. But it wasn’t painful, nor did he feel like his stomach was being stretched. As his stomach grew, it took on the natural shape of someone who had always been that fat, with two distinguishable lobes forming at the bottom and his love handles spreading out at the side, pushing his shirt away. And his belly was growing fast, becoming the size of a basketball right before his eyes.
Zander was so entranced by watching his belly grow that he didn’t realize the sleeves of his shirt were getting tighter. Painfully tight. Looking at his arms, he saw them filling out and stretching the fabric of the sleeves around them. His upper arms were suffering the worst, and he could hear the fabric starting to rip around them. In reaction to the tightness, he flexed his arms and found he actually had some muscle to throw around now, enough that it caused the sleeves to rip even more, turning into pathetic scraps of fabric that barely held on to the body of the shirt.
As for that body, Zander watched as the white of the shirt darkened steadily through deeper shades of grey. It was also becoming thicker, heavier, even as it seemed to shed its sleeves like like a dog’s winter coat in the summertime. The feel of the shirt against his skin seemed to be taking on a more leathery texture.
Looking up, Zander saw that his five o’clock shadow had grown out substantially, much farther than he’d ever tried letting it grow, until it was long enough to touch his chest. As it grew, the curls he was used to took on more of a wavy shape, allowing it to hang down in a more shapely manner. And hang down it did, encroaching closer and closer on his belly while maintaining a sharp shape.
Once Zander was paying attention to his belly again, he was surprised to see that it had grown even bigger. It was wider than his chest, and had gained enough size to become the undeniable centerpiece of his body. The leather vest his shirt was becoming only accentuated its size as it shrank back and allowed more of his ample belly to jut out from between its sides. It maintained the rounded shape of someone with a lot of muscle underneath the flab shaping in out, an impression that was solidified as Zanger saw his brawny, muscular arms coming in.
The only part Zander really wasn’t paying attention to was his legs, seeing as the jeans he’d worn to work seemed to be growing with him, as did his belt. Looking down, he saw that his sneakers had turned into black boots, completing the outfit along with the black belt that now held up his pants. He kneeled a bit and could feel that he now held a lot more muscle in his legs too. It seemed he’d been giving exactly the muscle and gut look he and Omar had talked about.
The transformation semed to stop once Zander’s belly was nearly the size of a yoga ball, sticking out like a boulder Zander was carrying in his hands. And yet, it didn’t feel new. Turning around to examine himself in the mirror and walking around a bit to see how it felt, he moved as if he’d been that size his whole life, as if it all came naturally to him. He supposed that was the benefit of the muscles, but even those, he figured, would have taken some getting used to. The muscle and gut were all definitely him, as he discovered while feeling over his new body. But he moved like he was still the skinny guy he was used to being.
“Right… how did you do that?” Zander asked Omar, discovering that his voice had even taken on a deeper, huskier tone.
“No matter how I explain it, I know you won’t believe me.”
Zander had to hand it to Omar; that much was probably true. “I see you didn’t change my hair.”
“Why change what already fits the look? Now come on. Queer Bash starts soon, and this transformation will only last until midnight–”
“So we need to make it count.”
“Why does it only last that long?”
“I’m not good enough to do it permanently, I’m sorry.”
With a sigh, Zander nodded and followed Omar out of his bedroom. “You driving?”
“Good, because unless your transformation can make me magically able to ride a motorcycle, and summon me one, I’m not getting us there.”
After Zander pushed the passenger seat back to accommodate his new heft, Omar drove the two of them to a large warehouse, where they found quite a few cars parked in the lot outside. “You said this was hosted by a rich guy,” Omar said as they pulled in, “And all they can afford is a warehouse?”
“Supposedly it’s too big to fit in his family’s private hall, although I wouldn’t be surprised if his dad made him host it out here instead.”
“Oh, what’s the entry fee?”
“Nope. Supposedly the old man isn’t too happy about that. Which is why the son does it.”
“You think he’ll be here tonight?”
“Supposedly he’s always at these things. You trying to get in on that action?”
“Heh, even if I was, this costume of your is the ultimate catfish.”
“Mmm,” Omar concurred, sounding like he hadn’t thought that part through. But he still sounded optimistic when he said, “Well, come on. I brought you out here to have some fun, and we’re still going to do that.”
“Yeah?” Zander said, sounding a bit nervous but mostly excited. “Alright, let’s do this.’
The two departed from Omar’s car and started walking toward the warehouse. But it didn’t take long before Omar said, “Okay, you’re still walking like an unconfident lanky guy. Take longer steps; your legs will catch you. Swing your arms as you walk. And stand with your back up straight. It pushes your belly out, and also makes you look more confident.”
Zander did as Omar instructed, and though it took a little getting used to, he did feel more confident and comfortable in his new size once he took Omar’s advice to heart. By the time they got to the line that had formed outside the warehouse, Zander felt like a new person.
“Aw, man, a line?”
“It’s just to check IDs. We should be in before too long.”
As Zander and Omar stood in line, looking around at all the various folks with varied attire, Zander felt like he was in a completely new world. There were folks in leather like him, folks in loud rainbow outfits, folks cross-dressing in formal clothes–or maybe they were dressing true to themselves–and folks playing with presentation in all sorts of different ways. In that context, a guy as fat as he was that night wearing only jeans and a leather vest wasn’t that outrageous.
“So what do we do about… you know… midnight?” Zander asked Omar more quietly.
“You have your phone on you, right?”
“Set an alarm for 11:30 so you know you need to start making your exit, and one for 11:40 so you know when you absolutely have to be out by. We meet at the car at 11:45. That way we have plenty of time to get out of here before the effect wears off.”
“And when it does?”
“You’ll be back to how you looked before the spell, old clothes and all, without the damage your shirt took during the transformation.”
Zander nodded and took out his phone to set the alarms like Omar had suggested. True to Omar’s word, they moved through the line rather quickly, taking them to the font. It was then that Zander panicked about looking nothing like his ID. But when he pulled it out of his wallet, he found that it had transformed along with him, bearing his current resemblance. With a sigh of relief, he kept it in hand as he and Omar got close to the end of the line.
“Evening, folks,” one of the bouncers said as he took the IDs from both. “Okay, no alcohol for you, leather vest, so head to my friend Gina over there for a red band. Pink polo, head to my friend Tom for a green band.”
“Oh, I’m driving, so I won’t be drinking,” Omar interjected.
“Ah, designated driver. Hey Tom! Give this guy a blue band! This gets you free soda and juice at the bar. Ask our bartenders what virgin mixed drinks they can make. They’ll be glad you did.”
Omar gave the bouncer a thumbs up as he and Zander headed inside, receiving their respective wristbands before making their way into the warehouse. Inside, the whole space had been cleared into a dance floor, with a lengthy bar set up on the right side and a long table with food on the left. In the center, a crowd of folks as varied and colorful as the crowd outside were dancing to a Carly Rae Jepsen song.
“So… what now?” Zander asked.
“What now?” Omar repeated mockingly. “Enjoy yourself! That’s what now. I’m going to go take the bartenders up on those virgin mixed drinks.”
Unfortunately for Zander, Omar chose to dance his way through the crowd to get to the bar, resulting in him losing sight of his roommate pretty quickly. Standing on the side of the floor, Zander had no idea what to do next. Enjoy himself? How does one do that?
But he got an idea when he made eye contact with a fellow with blue hair and a modestly-sized belly who was standing on the outskirts of the floor. The blue-haired guy’s eyes immediately went wide upon seeing Zander, making Zander smile and saunter on over as Carly sang out, “Baby… take me, to the, feeling.” And Zander felt like that was exactly what blue hair was doing, his smile growing wider as Zander approached him.
“May I have this dance,” Zander asked as he extended a hand toward blue hair. But all either of them could hear was Carly Rae belting “I’ll be your sinner in secret”. But it suited Zander just fine as he figured “May I have this dance” was probably outdated anyway, and blue hair seemed to understand him just fine. Taking Zander’s hand in his own, he brought the two deeper into the crowd, before he turned around and brought his own body to bear against Zander’s belly. Looking up at Zander with lustful eyes, he brought his hands to the sides of Zander’s gut. Though he was surprised at first, Zander looked down into blue’s eyes with a smile, brought his hands around blue’s shoulders, and finally understood what Omar meant by, “Enjoy yourself!”
Zander pulled blue in close and swayed his massive belly from side to side, enjoying throwing his own weight around while watching how much blue clearly enjoyed it. Blue, meanwhile, did his best to grind his hips against Zander, while looking up at him and biting his lip. And it seemed he wasn’t the only one, as plenty of other guys approached the two and took their turns dancing with Zander. At some point, blue found another partner to dance with, but with three other guys dancing with Zander, he didn’t mind.
As the night wore on, Zander made his way across the dance floor, until he reached the other side of the warehouse and saw a man who took his breath away. The man had a friendly yet mischievous expression, hair dyed blonde on top and combed over to one side, and an immaculately styled brown beard. And yet, in spite of how handsome he was, he was standing on the side with a drink in his hand, observing the crowd and smiling, but not dancing himself. Zander knew that was his chance.
But as he made his was to the edge of the crowd, Zander saw two more familiar faces, the last familiar faces he wanted to see that night. It was Drew and Andre, standing such that with how the room was set up, Zander would have to walk past them in order to reach the apple of his eye. Sure, they probably wouldn’t recognize him now, but just seeing them brought back all the memories of how they treated him. He felt himself mentally shrinking away, wanting to avoid them by any means necessary. Maybe even leaving now that he knew they were there. And what if they did recognize him? Why, he’d never heard the end of the fat jokes.
But another glance at the cute bearded fellow had him sure that he couldn’t let his older brothers bully him again, not when he finally had all the tools at his disposal to get away with it. After taking a deep breath, Zander stood tall and put on his best confident smile. If anything, this was a chance to get back at his brothers, if only a little. As he approached the two, he moved to walk behind Drew, who’d always been the meaner of the two. Putting his hand on Drew’s shoulder, he was surprised at just how easily he could move him aside with his new strength. That new strength gave him the confidence to say, “Step aside, boys,” as he passed.
Hearing Drew ask Andre, “What’s his problem?” only made Zander smile when he realized they truly didn’t grasp just how big a problem he had with them. But he ignored them, walking toward the blond fellow, who donned a smile as Zander got closer.
“How’s it going?” Zander asked, leaning on the wall with his muscular arm and letting his massive belly hang out.
“Pretty good, I have to say,” the man returned, giving Zander a once-over from head to toe before looking back up again.
With a warm chuckle, Zander leaned back to push his belly out even farther, before continuing. “Don’t you think it could be better if you were out there dancing?”
“You know,” the man continued, looking down sheepishly. “No one’s asked me to dance.”
“Well I find that hard to believe, a man as handsome as you?” Zander said, making the man look up with a smile. Extending a hand out, Zander asked, “May I be the first to change that?”
The man’s smile grew extra wide before he took Zander’s hand. “I’m Henry.”
“Za–ack. My name’s Zack,” Zander said, realizing that if his costume was going to be effective, he couldn’t introduce himself by his real name
That’s not actually your name, is it?” Henry asked with a smirk.
“Uh…. no,” Zander admitted. “No, it’s not. I, uh… I’d prefer to not use my real name here, if you don’t mind.”
“You’re not alone,” Henry said with a smile before walking to stand at Zander’s side. “Some folks come here wanting to play a character. A lot more are constantly playing a character out there and come here to be their real selves. Whatever your reason, I respect that.”
Zander gave Henry an appreciative smile before the two walked arm-in-arm to the dance floor. Drew and Andre moved out of the way for them without either needing to say anything, and the two approached
Bodies and limbs bumped into Zander as Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” blared out of the speakers. But one touch remained consistent, and that was Henry’s hands gently holding on to the side of Zander’s belly. Though he still wasn’t used to having a gut worthy of that much attention, Zander leaned into it figuratively and literally, swinging his belly around as he moved his hips with every other beat of the song.
That was, until he felt Henry’s grip on his belly tighten just a bit, and looked down to see Henry lookin back up at him with a smirk and raised eyelids. It didn’t take long after that for Zander to find a way pulse his hips with the beat, his belly bouncing in rhythm as it practically grinded against Henry’s stomach. Zander kept that motion up until the song ended, when he felt Henry’s hips pushing against the bottom of his belly. Looking down, he saw Henry grabbing the side of his vest, a testament to just how closely he’d eased himself up against Zander.
With the song fading into a more driving techno number, Zander felt like he was starting to get the hang of the whole having-a-belly thing. As the more intense beat kicked in, he tilted his head down and looked up to make eye contact with Henry, before lifting his finger up and twirling it around in a circle. With a modestly confused look in his eyes, Henry stared at Zander as he did as instructed, until he couldn’t look over his shoulder anymore.
It was then that Zander shoved his belly his belly into Henry’s back. Henry froze at first, seemingly surprised by Zander’s boldness, but he quickly settled into it. Arching his back just a bit, Henry moved side-to-side with the beat as he settled against Zander’s ample gut. As thin as his shirt looked, Zander was sure he could feel the warmth of his belly against his back. While Henry settled in, Zander placed his hands on Henry’s shoulders, finding it quite easy to put him in a firm grip with all his new muscles. And Henry seemed to love it, arching back even farther as Zander started pumping his gut into Henry to the beat of the song. As Henry leaned back, he tried to reach underneath himself to grab at Zander’s gut, like he wanted to rub it and return the favor. But the constant bump and grind of such a massive gut in his back left him unable to do much but enjoy the ride.
Zander wasn’t sure how long the two kept it up–he was enjoying it enough that he could have kept doing it until the stroke of midnight–but in the midst of a song sung by a singer who was fond of repeating syllables on the chorus, Henry pushed himself out of Zander’s grip and turned around to look at him. His mouth was hanging open from breathing heavily, and his eyes were heavy with longing. Without a word, Henry reached for Zander’s vest and pulled himself in as close as he could, his toothy grin demonstrating his intentions as he wrapped his arms around Zander’s shoulders. Looking into Zander’s eyes, he paused a bit as Zander wrapped his own arms around him. With a wide grin on his face, Henry leaned in and closed the remaining distance between their faces.
It was a kiss. Zander’s first.
Zander was practically frozen by the milestone moment and how unexpected it was. His mind was racing at a thousand miles a minute, thoughts that sped by so fast that his mind might as well have been blank. He could do little but stand there and let it happen, feeling lucky to be experiencing it at all.
Thankfully, Henry was a bit more in tune than that. After kissing Zander for a few seconds, he pulled back as far and Zander’s arms would let him and mouthed, “You okay?”
Zander opted to skip answering the question. As old as he was, he was ready to dive headfirst into the first opportunity he’d had to kiss someone. And for it to be someone who wanted Zander just as much, false pretenses be damned, that was simply too much to resist. Tightening his arms, Zander took on a devious smile of his own as he pulled Henry close yet again, a smile Henry returned before he closed his eyes and leaned in.
Zander had always imagined his first kiss, if he ever got to experience it, would be soft and tender and slow-going. That he and the guy he kissed would exchange sweet nothings, maybe ending with some romantic one-liner, before their mouths silenced each other. He imagined a symphony of strings swelling in his heart, the crescendo perfectly timed with their slow approach. He imagined lips on lips, their heads and mouths remaining still as they hugged each other a little tighter as the kiss went on.
What he got was a guy asking him if he was okay, understandably, before he was so ready to dive back in that he skipped right past the boring stuff and immediately pulled Henry as close as they could be. His mouth didn’t have the patience for statuesque poise, instead opening to wrap around Henry’s lips, before Henry did the same. The music masked the volume of their heavy breathing, like their kisses could take the other’s breath away. Or perhaps their embraces were merely too tight, squeezing each other like holding onto the moment for dear life, never wanting to let go.
Once Zander could finally let Henry free, with his head still tilted down, he looked up and saw Henry with his mouth still agape and his eyes still closed. Slowly they opened to meet Zander’s gaze, his mouth closing in unison with their emergence, until he looked back at Zander with a smirk that turned into a full grin.
The two kept dancing with their hands on each other, Zander’s around Henry’s shoulders while Henry held on tightly to Zander’s gut. Feeling just how far apart Henry’s hands had to rest to hold on to Zander, he smiled even more widely as he looked into Henry’s eyes. It seemed Henry was enjoying it just as much, his grin growing wider as Zander turned his belly from side to side, pushing it back and forth in Henry’s embrace so he could enjoy it even more.
Zander wasn’t sure how long they danced like that–not long enough, as far as he was concerned. But eventually Henry motioned for them to leave the dance floor. With a nod, Zander followed him until they were behind the speakers, as a dance remix of “The Edge of Glory” lead them off the floor. “Not a bad song,” Henry admitted once they were past the threshold of the speakers, making it easy to hear him again.
“Not your favorite, though?”
“No… you know, ‘Zach’, I haven’t told a lot of people this. But my favorite Gaga song, honest to goodness… it’s a dance remix of “Million Reasons”.”
“The breakup song?”
“On its surface, yes. But that one line, ‘Baby I just need one good one to stay.’” That’s how I feel about a lot of things, the dance floor included.”
“You want to go back on the floor?”
“Heh, no, that’s alright. I promised you we’d spend some time behind the speakers to relax after dancing, and I intended to do that.”
“Awww,” Zander cooed, nestling his head against Henry’s shoulder. In spite of the their height difference, Henry was tall enough that Zander could still nuzzle his shoulder as they ambled over to a corner, where the two could have more time together.
Or so Zander thought. Upon pulling out his phone to check the time, his heart froze when he saw that the alarm for 11:30 and 11:40 had already gone off, and he’d danced through both of them. When he saw that the time on the homescreen was 11:59, he froze.
“Hey, listen, tonight was great, but I need I to get going, sorry,” Zander blurted out before he started running. “It’s not you, it’s me!” he shouted as he moved his massive body faster than he expected he’d be able to. He could vaguely make out Henry’s protestations, but he had bigger problems on his hands, as he watched the time on his phone turn from 11:59 to 12:00.
With nowhere to hide, Zander ducked into the crowd, which had now grown large enough to take over almost the entire warehouse. At his size, people moved out of his way with haste, but his height still stuck out above the rest of the crowd. So he ducked down and kept moving quickly, making sure no one saw him long enough to observe his transformation.
And the transformation was happening. As Zander pushed his way through the increasingly uncooperative crowd, he could look down and see his belly retracting back into his stomach. His beard was curling back up into a gnarly mess before disappearing entirely. As he moved, he didn’t have to bend his head down as far to stay out of sight. And his leather vest was turning into a frumpy, unbuttoned long-sleeve shirt.
By the time Zander stumbled out of the crowd, he was back to his old self, with the thankful exception of his red entry bracelet. Without enough time to button his shirt, he pushed up the sleeves to at least make the sloppy style look intention. After taking one last look around, he made sure the coast was clear: no brothers, no stepmother (after seeing Drew and Andre, he couldn’t discount the possibility), just him and the door, which several other folks were leaving through.
But as Zander walked toward the door, he turned around just in time to see Henry frantically walking around the room, scanning the crowd and stopping folks outside of it to talk to them. Probably asking about him. Turning away from the spectacle, Zander looked down and whispered, “I’m sorry, Henry.”
Without looking back, Zander walked out the door, while the bouncer bade him, “Have a good night. Get home safe.” With a deep inhalation and closed eyes, Zander gave him a wave as he kept looking ahead, making his way to Omar’s car. It was hard to tell the cars apart in the dark lot, but thankfully, Omar stood tall enough above his car that he was easy to spot.
Once Zander was close enough for Omar to see him, Omar crossed his arms. “Lost track of time, did we?”
“Come on. Let’s get you home,” Omar said, unlocking the car doors and beckoning Zander to sit inside. Once both doors were closed, Omar looked at him with a concerned expression and asked, “Did anyone see you change?”
“I don’t think so. I ducked into the crowd when midnight came, and kept moving so no one could watch me for too long. By the time I got back out of the crowd, well… I looked like this.”
With a nod, Omar admitted, “Not a bad save.”
“Yeah…” Zander relented, before sinking down in his chair. “Why did the transformation have to end at midnight, anyway?”
“Even magic has its limits.”
After scoffing at Omar’s excuse, Zander looked out the window as Omar started the ignition.
“Did you at least have a good time?”
“I had a great time,” Zander answered angrily. “I danced with a bunch of folks, had more fun than I’ve ever had in one night before. I even ran into my brothers and told them to step aside because I knew they wouldn’t recognize me. And then I asked this incredibly handsome guy to dance with me, and he did! And we were having a great time, and about to go off to the side to get to know each other better, before midnight came. And now, even if I find him again, he’ll never believe it’s me, because… well, look at me!”
Zander let out a frustrated groan while putting his face in his hand.
“Well… look, how does that saying go? Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?”
“Whoever said that can fuck off.”
“Christ, okay, look: I just wanted to show you a good time. And from the sound of things, I succeeded. Is that so wrong? Was it so wrong of me to want you to have a fun night out?”
Zander remained silent for a moment, before he let out a lengthy sigh and looked up to stare at the oncoming road. “No. No, it wasn’t. I knew my time was limited, and… I should have made better use of it if I wanted anything that happened there to last beyond tonight.”
“That was… more responsibility than I expected you to take, honestly,” Omar replied in a quiet voice, higher-pitched than his usual tone.
“What can I say?” Zander said in a quiet tone of his own. “Growing up in my stepmom’s house, I got very good at apologizing.”
After that, the two rode in silence, without even music from the radio to ease the tension. Zander didn’t know what was going through Omar’s mind, but all he could think about was the dance that he and Henry had shared. And yet, all his recollections were bittersweet, as he remained convinced that it would be the last time he’d ever share such a moment with a guy that handsome.
Zander’s next shift after the dance was one of the slowest he could remember. The day seemed to pass by at a crawl as he cooked his usual dishes. In an open kitchen environment like the one he worked in, he got to see every happy couple that dined in the diner that day, and every one of them stung just a bit to watch. Except for the few that argued, although they just made Zander wonder how they could take each other for granted. When Zander’s shift finally ended, he walked home much more slowly than usual.
Zander came home to find Omar sitting on the couch with his laptop. “Hey,” he greeted. “Have you seen this video that the guy behind Queer Bash posted?”
“I haven’t seen or heard of any video that guy posted, no.”
“Well, it turns out he danced with a guy last night whom he really liked, and now he’s posted a missed-connection-type video about it.”
“I think you should watch it,” Omar said sternly, much to Zander’s confusion. Zander walked toward the couch to look at Omar’s laptop screen, freezing in place when he saw the face in the paused video. It was Henry.
Once Omar hit play, Henry started, “Hello, everyone. This is a message for an individual who attended the third Queer Bash, who goes by the name of Zach.” With a sigh, he added, “I know Zach isn’t your real name, but it’s all I have to go on.
“Around 10:30, you approached me and asked me to dance. We shared a… wonderful dance, and just before midnight, we left to have some quiet time behind the speakers. But just before we could, you vanished into the crowd without any explanation, just saying, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ And no matter how hard I tried to find you after that, I couldn’t.
“Now, Zach did chose to go by a name other than his real name; he admitted this to me. As such, I don’t want to show a composite sketch or description of him, and risk outting him to the people in his life. Instead, here’s what I do have.” Henry lifted a clear plastic zip-lock bag, after which he continued, “Before you ran, you left this hair on my jacket. And now, I’m hoping you’ll come forward, and we can can compare your hair to the reference one, and… you and I can be reunited. I still owe you that post-dance talk, after all.
“If you see this, Zach, please, come to the address on the bottom of the screen during one of the listed times. I’ll be there.”
Zander was silent as Omar slowly closed the laptop. At the click of the latch, he managed to blurt out, “That’s the guy I danced with!”
“Mmhm. Something about this ‘Zack’ disappearing around midnight gave me the feeling you should see that.”
With his hand over his mouth, Zander paced the apartment, asking, “Oh what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”
“Seems obvious to me: go to that building when you get the chance and reunite with him.”
“Are you dense? He’ll be expecting a guy with a full beard and a massive belly, not… this,” Zander concluded as he motioned to his comparatively lacking body.
“But you still have that hair. Luckily for you, that wasn’t something I changed.”
“And you think that’s going to convince him?”
“Get him to compare the hair and it’ll certainly be a start.”
“Can’t you just… change me into that form permanently?”
“Not consciously. I’m afraid my powers aren’t that strong.”
Zander decided he was better off not asking Omar to elaborate.
“You know, one of those times was tonight. I’ll give you a ride there.”
“Once he realizes it’s you, something tells me you won’t have to worry about a ride back. But I’ll tell you what: if I’m wrong, text me and I’ll come pick you up.”
“That’s the least you could do,” Zander grumbled. “Alright, just for the sake of proving you wrong. Let’s go.”
The two walked down to Omar’s car with barely a word, before Omar put the address in his GPS and started driving. They were quiet on the drive over too, until they got to the building in question and saw a line extending out the door, with about a dozen people standing outside leading to a line that continued inside.
“Aren’t you glad we came early?” Omar asked.
“How is there this long of a line? None of these guys look anything like how I looked that night.”
“Which means you stand a chance. Now get out there,” Omar encouraged, prompting Zander to step out onto the sidewalk with a bit of an eye roll.
Once he got in line, Zander tapped the guy in front of him on the shoulder and asked, “Hey, do you know why there’s such a long line to get in? Surely he can just look at all these guys and say, ‘You don’t look anything like Zach.’”
“Word is he’s testing everyone’s hair, because he doesn’t want anyone to keep track of who he turns away and try to figure out what Zach looks like.”
“Okay, but like… these guys know they aren’t Zach. Why are they here?”
“Trying to get a chance at dating someone in high society, I assume, on the off chance their hair matches Zach’s. That’s why I’m here, anyway.”
Zander let out an aggravated sigh as he scanned the line in front of him. It sounded like he had a chance after all, but only because Henry was letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry in off the street who wanted to come in and try their chances at a false match. It was pathetic to see all those guys lined up who knew they weren’t Zach, but played at it anyway.
Thankfully, the line was moving fairly quickly, as it seemed the side-by-side comparisons were happening fairly quickly. Looking up ahead, Zander could see two men dressed like security detail at the end of the. One was taking hair samples from the guys as they came through, while another had two microscopes to compare the samples with Zander’s hair. Next to both of them was Henry, sitting in a folding chair and looking dejected.
Farther down, Zander saw a collection of folding chairs set up, with only two occupied. However, they were occupied the last people Zander wanted to see: Drew and Andre. It seemed their familial relation had given their hair enough similarity to Zander’s to match, and thus they’d moved on to the “next round”, whatever that meant.
After spotting them, Zander considered bailing, leaving the line so it would block their view of him and heading out. Running into them was the last thing he wanted. But as the line continued moving, he found himself refusing to move from his spot. Though he grew more nervous, he also grew more determined, swallowing his nervousness as he approached the front of the line.
Zander stepped ahead and let the snip off one of his hairs. He knew this was his moment to impress upon Henry that he indeed was Zach, but couldn’t think of how.
“Well look what the cat dragged in!”
Drew’s voice was uncomfortably familiar, as familiar as Andre’s shouting out, “Hey pipsqueak, what do you think you’re doing here? You know you don’t belong here.”
Every muscle in Zander wanted to bolt from his spot. But he stood still and paid them no mind, looking at Henry, who seemed to barely even notice the shouting.
“Henry,” Zander shakily said, causing Henry to look up with weary eyes. “I… I know I look nothing you remember me looking.”
“Get lost, pussy!”
“Alright, that’s enough out of you two,” the guard who was cutting hair called out.
It took Zander a moment to recollect himself, but he did. “I know I don’t have a massive, round belly or long wavy beard, and I’d lost a few inches of height. My hair is the only thing that stayed consistent–”
“Ugh, great, Zach’s description got out,” Henry grumbled. “Look, never mind the question of why anyone would shave a beard that amazing. Do you expect me to believe you somehow lost all that gut this quickly? I’ve seen plenty of liposuction jobs, buddy, and trust me, it’s not that strong.” Looking at the guard at the microscope, he said, “Hey, don’t bother. We can screen by appearance now that we know his description got out.
“W-wait!” In a panic, Zander thought back to the previous night for something, anything he could blurt out to prove his identity. Goddammit, why didn’t they spent more time talking. “I… I… Your favorite Lady Gaga song.”
Henry looked up with his eyebrows raised.
“You said you haven’t told a lot of people, so I didn’t want to just blurt it out.”
At that, Henry’s eyelids rose as well, before he beckoned Zander to lean in close.
“The dance remix of ‘Million Reasons’.”
When Zander leaned away, Hank’s mouth was hanging agape. With his eyes still locked on Zander, he told the guard in a quiet voice, “Run his hair sample.”
The next few moment passed in agonizing silence. Zander remained quiet as he hoped the truth would win out. Henry, meanwhile, looked back at Zander with a mix of confusion and shock. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on Zander’s part, but he swore he saw a bit of hoping against hope in Henry’s face too. Neither seemed sure what to say.
“Hey Henry? It’s a perfect match. Even better than those two,” he concluded as he motioned toward Drew and Andre.
But Henry didn’t take his eyes off of Zander. He didn’t look at his security, or at Drew or Andre, just at Zander, the person he was waiting all night for, come back in a form he didn’t expect. “How?”
“How did you… go from looking like you did at the dance… to looking like this?”
With a sigh, Zander answered, “No matter how I explain it, I know you won’t believe me. Let’s just say I wanted to have a night out without risking the possibility of those two recognizing me,” Zander said as he pointed to his brothers.
“Ay, what’s he saying about us?” Andre called out.
“Never you mind,” Henry shouted back. Turning back to Zander, he said, “You three, uh… have history?”
“They’re my brothers,” Zander answered quietly. “And after I left home, I hoped to never see them again.”
“Um, Henry,” the man at the microscope said. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but should we keep this sample to run DNA comparison on?”
“Yes, yes,” Henry replied in a hurried tone, before looking back to Zander. “So all that was… a costume?”
“You could say that. You could also say it’s a reflection of how I’d like to look. I really liked dancing with you as a fat biker guy.”
The longer Henry looked into Zander’s eyes, the more he seemed to believe, against all logic, that it was true. His confused face took on more of a smile, his eyelids relaxed, and his eyes weren’t bulging quite so far out of his head. Walking slowly up to Zander, he put his hand on the side of Zander’s shoulder, causing a murmur to ripple down the line. “You know what I liked about you most?”
“You saw me as just any other guest there. A lot of the guys at those dances have been too intimidated by my… social stature, I guess… to ask me to dance, or even talk to me. And those who aren’t are often full of themselves and not worth giving the time of day. But you… you just walked right up to me and asked me if I’d like to dance.”
Zander’s mouth curled into a bit of a smile as he worked up the nerve to look Henry in the eyes. “You know, if I’d known who you were, I might not have been able to work up the courage to ask you to dance. We shared that floor for an hour and a half, and I still feel I barely know you.”
“Likewise. But I’d like to get to know you.”
With a wider smile, Zander asked, “You sure you don’t want to wait for that DNA test result to come back?”
“Eh, I’m sure it’ll just confirm what I already know. What I don’t know, is your real name,” Henry said with a hospitable smile.
Zander felt a little nervous saying it out loud, but it seemed it was now or never. “Zander” he replied.
“Zander. I can see how you got Zack from that,” Henry giggled. Turning back to his security, Henry said, “Hey Leo? You can dismiss the crowd. I’ve found my man,” he said as he gave Zander a pat on the shoulder.
“Right. Alright, everyone, you can all go home! We’ve found our match!” Groans and grumblings emanated from the line as it turned into a more amorphous crowd and headed out. “That means you two as well,” he continued, pointing to Andre and Drew, who got up from their chairs with scowls on their faces.
“You just have to ruin everything for us, don’t you, pipsqueak?”
“What can I say?” Zander said, emboldened by a surprising, newfound confidence that Henry’s trust had given him. “You taught me well.”
Both of his brothers scoffed as they left the building. Once everyone was gone, Henry turned to Zander and said, “Won’t you stay a while? We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Of course. I was very much looking forward to that time spent behind the speakers.”
With a smile, Henry put his arm around Zander’s shoulders and lead him out of the building, walking at a slow pace to give everyone time to disperse. “You know, once you get a taste of our personal chefs’ cooking, I think you might find yourself back at that size sooner than you think.”
At that, Zander could only smile.
It was Zander’s first upscale party since he and Henry had started dating. He was wearing a suit that Henry had picked out and bought for him, knowing Zander probably didn’t have one of his own. The two sat in the back of a car being driven by one of Henry’s family chauffeurs, as they both tried to put on their best smile.
“How do you like the suit?” Henry asked.
“I mean… don’t get me wrong, it looks fantastic. Better than anything I’ve owned. It’s just… more restrictive than anything I’ve owned. Even though I don’t think your tailors could have done a better job fitting it to me. Although it is a bit… tight around the middle.”
With a chuckle, Henry patted Zander’s stomach. “I told you you’d like our chefs’ cooking.”
“You weren’t wrong,” Zander said, as he reflected on the meals he’d gotten to enjoy with Henry. They were easily the best he’d had in his life, and he usually left the table feeling awfully full. Now it seemed it was starting to catch up with him.
“Did you talk to that personal trainer I recommended.”
“Yep, and we’ve hit the gym together a few times. I told her about our end goal, and she said I can definitely get strong enough to carry that around, as long as this,” Zander said as he pointed to his stomach, “doesn’t grow faster than these,” he said as he tried to flex his arm, only to find the suit didn’t allow him to bend his arm up like that. “Uh, that was supposed to be a flex. This suit doesn’t allow for much movement.”
“Yeah,” Henry agreed, “suits like this certainly aren’t built for comfort or range of motion. It’s one of the reasons I’m not fond of these affairs. That and you can’t dress to express, only to impress. Still, I find ways.” Indeed, Henry’s purple suit and lavender floral tie looked like it would be a good deal more expressive than anything the other men at the party wore. “Once you’re more established, we’ll work on ways for you to do the same.”
“I take it that means we’ll be going to more of these parties?”
“Yeah,” Henry sighed. “They come with the territory, I’m afraid. And hey, for your involvement in the territory, you get your own apartment, and you’ll be getting your degree on the family dollar.”
“I… still can’t believe that’s really happening. It’s like, not only do I get to date an awesome guy like you, but I’m getting… rewarded for it? It’s crazy.”
“Everything having to do with the upper class is crazy. You’ll learn that soon enough.”
“How does you dad feel about you still holding Queer Bash now that you’ve found someone?”
“Oh he was not happy,” Henry chuckled. “But he’ll live. Man has more money than he knows what to do with, so he just hoards it. If I could, I’d give it all to people who need it more, but goodness knows he’d never allow that. So I’m going to keep Queer Bash going as long as I can. I just keep telling him that if you and I don’t work out, it’s good to have other options.”
“Is that why you’re making me go to college?”
“Uh, yeah. If you want to be able to do okay for yourself without the support of your family, you need that degree.”
“I guess you’re right. You know, I’ve been looking at those career guides your dad gave me, and software engineering is looking pretty nice. I wouldn’t have to dress like this every day, for one,” he said with a scoff.
“No, far from it,” Henry chuckled. “And I would love the tabloid headlines: boyfriend of wealthy socialite caught in tee shirt and cargo shorts! Oh, they’d spit out their tea.”
“Am I really going to have those kinds of eyes on me?”
“Unfortunately, it’s a distinct possibility. It also comes with the territory. But hey,” Henry said, before turning to lean toward Zander. “Can I bring up a… difficult topic for the purpose of providing a silver lining.”
Zander knew Henry had to mean his family. There weren’t many other topics that Henry was so cautious about. But ever since Zander had explained the whole context of why his brothers has acted the way they did the night the two were reunited, he’d been a lot more delicate about the subject. “Sure.”
“Your stepmom seems like the kind of person who would read those magazines. Imagine her reaction when she finds out you’ve made your way into the upper crust.”
Zander tried to smile at the thought. But considering how his stepmom’s reaction to any good happening to Zander was always to snatch it away, it didn’t feel like the best revenge that living well should have been.
“Not so satisfying?”
“No,” Zander had to admit.
“Sorry. Let’s just try to get through tonight and I’ll make it up to you afterward.”
That promise brought a small smile to Zander’s face, just as the chauffeur pulled in to the event.
“Here we are, gentlemen.”
“Thank you, Chad. I’ll give you another call when we need you,” Zander said as the two got out of car.
“Of course,” Chad replied, driving away once the two were both on the sidewalk.
“Come on,” Henry said. “Stick with me and you’ll be okay.”
The two walked into a house even bigger than any Zander had visited since he and Henry started dating. The foyer alone was big enough that his stepmom’s old house could fit inside of it. And yet, it was still full of people dressed in their finest, chatting and seemingly posing as well. Zander didn’t know anyone who naturally stood the way all these rich folks were standing around to impress each other. They’d only walked through the front door, and already Zander felt out of his element.
But Zander followed Henry around dutifully, making conversation after being introduced to everyone there and promptly forgetting their names. He didn’t precisely enjoy the experience, but he was at least getting the hang of it as he talked to more people. For a moment, it seemed he might be able to survive these events after all.
Then, as Zander was about to follow Henry through a crowded area of the hall, he felt a strong grip grab onto his shoulder and pull him back. Before Zander could fight the grip off or try to catch up with Henry, he was face-to-face with the last person he wanted to see.
“Zander Ella Robinson.” The voice was uncomfortably familiar, a voice that had said his full name more often than any other. And the anger in her eyes, all too familiar as well. All at once, Zander froze, as he had all too many times before when his stepmom was angry. “How. Dare. You. You… you run away from home, forcing me to do all the chores around the house until I could outsource them. You abandoned me when your older brothers had already moved out on their own. And now, now you come crash one of our formal events, intent on embarrassing me by revealing that not all of my sons were cut from the same cloth. How dare you–”
“Zander! There you are,” Henry called out, causing his stepmom to freeze in place. “Ah, I see you’re making friends. This is Lady Eleanor Tremar. Lady Tremar, this is my boyfriend, Zander.”
“Boy… friend…? Well, of course,” she said, completely turning her tone around into a positive one, while her expression was all smiles. “How… wonderful to meet you, Zander. How nice that you two have found each other–”
“We’ve met,” Zander said loudly, interrupting Eleanor and causing her to mouth “don’t you dare” at him. As the anger seethed in his veins, he kept his cool just enough to say, “In fact, Henry, I should be introducing you two. This is my stepmom,” Zander finished.
Henry froze at Zander’s statement, before turning to Eleanor and saying with a mix of surprise and anger, “Eleanor… you told me you had two kids… Drew and Andre…”
“Well… I, uh, I…”
“Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen what your little bundles of joy look like. I don’t suppose you have a photo?”
Speechless and mouth agape, Eleanor reached into her pocketbook and pulled out her phone, pulling up a photo of the two boys smiling.
“The same guys who gave you trouble the night of the hair test,” Henry said to Zander.
“Right. Eleanor, I would strongly suggest that you leave this party before I make security force you too.”
“Ar… Are you threatening me?”
“And enjoy the walk out. Because I’m going to make damn sure you never get invited to another party like this.”
Eleanor scoffed and asked, “And who do you think you are to kick me out of someone else’s party?”
“You severely overestimate your clout. Money can buy a lot, but it can’t buy that.”
“How dare you–”
“You heard him,” Zander interrupted, finding a strange sort of confidence in standing side-by-side with Henry. “Scram. Because everyone at this party is about to find out just how… how…” Say it, Zander told himself. You know it’s true. “Abusive you were.”
At that, Eleanor’s eyelids flared, and she looked ready to attack Zander, a look that prompted Henry to step in front of Zander just enough to discourage her. Speaking in a low voice, with angry emphasis on every word, she continued, “I did the best with what I had to take care of you three kids. And this is the thanks I get from my my most ungrateful child.”
Zander squashed every instinct that told him to apologize, to take blame, to play peacekeeper. He let the conflict linger, let his stepmother look at him angrily, before she scoffed and walked toward the door.
Once she was out, Zander loosened his pose and hunched over in exhaustion, before looking over at Henry and asking, “Can you really make sure she doesn’t come to any of these parties?”
“Oh yeah. You might see her at an odd niche one, but I’ll ensure she never bothers you at a party like this.”
“The rumor mill, of course. Gossiping is all these people know how do, and I’ll put it to work for us for once. In the meantime,” Henry said, taking hold of Zander’s hand, “let’s enjoy what this party has to offer.”