The Pen

Contains: long-term weight gain, direct encouraging.

I LIVE!!!!

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while, and boy am I happy to be posting for you again.

I started this story back in February of this year, yes, about five months ago. Since then, my work on it has been stymied by pandemic stress, and the fact that I never managed to get in the habit of writing regularly while I was working from home. I knew this story would be a challenge to finish, given that I knew it was going to be a long one. But I chose to focus on it, because at the time, it was what I really wanted to write.

So what got me to finally finish this story? In June, my company gave us the choice to go back to working in the office, rather than working from home. I took that option, and once I got back into my old routine, my writing followed suit. I wrote over 6,000 words in about two weeks, and managed to finish this story. Proofreading and editing took a while longer, not helped by the lengthy writing period of the first draft but here we finally are.

This story started out as a sort of morality fable, commenting on certain self-fancying “dom feeders” in the gaining community, who seem to collect feedees with about as much disinterest in them as individuals as any other collector. Needless to say, I don’t look too fondly on these kinds of feeders. What got me to want to write it was brainstorming ideas with a friend, and I came up with the idea, “What if [well-known movie], but make it gaining?” I ended up focusing much more on the story than on the moral of it, but I think the story is better for it.

Now, I don’t want to tell you what movie this story is based on, because that would spoil the ending of this story. But if you read this story to the end, I think you’ll know. (Any comments spoiling it for other readers will be deleted.)

Synopsis: Ted is an unhappy office worker slaving away to try to lose the ten pounds his doctor says he should, when he meets a nutritionist, and feeder, named Bam. After Bam convinces Ted to embrace his gluttonous nature, the two find themselves attracting other men who yearn to revel in gluttony. After the group grows to quite a few members, they form The Pen, a club where men can get together to enjoy gorging among like-minded folks. But as the men grow, the club grows out of control as well, forcing Ted into some uncomfortable situations as he has to face what he’s helped create.

Ted pushed open the door to Mildred’s, the 24-hour diner down the street from his apartment. It was 7:48 PM, and he knew he wouldn’t feel motivated to make dinner once he got home, particularly now that he was trying to eat healthier. An omelet from a greasy spoon might not have been the healthiest thing he could get for himself, but it would have to do.

After sitting at one of the stools, Ted slumped over the counter, his chin in both of his hands as his arms held his head up. Those long days at the office were bad enough, but going to the gym after work left him even fewer hours in the day. He told himself to keep his eyes on the prize, to focus on getting his weight where it needed to be. But when that would just mean even more time spent at the gym to keep the weight off, it was hard for him to feel motivated.

“How ya doin’, Ted?” Mildred asked as she put down a plate and utensils in front of him.

“Another day in paradise,” he sighed.

“What can I get ya?”

“Black tea and an egg white veggie omelette.”

“You sound like you could use something a bit more exciting.”

“I certainly could,” Ted admitted. “But I need to watch my weight.”

“What weight? You’re as skinny as a beanpole.”

“That’s very kind of you, Millie, but my doc says he’d like to see me drop another five pounds.”

“And I’d like to see the Chippendales dancers perform here every night, but ya gotta be realistic.”

“Aren’t you a little old to be drooling over boys like that?” Ted teased.

“Oh, shush,” Mildred said with a smile, before grabbing a mug to fill with hot water. Once it was filled, she took a tea bag from the box leaning against the wall and dunked it in, before bringing it back to Ted. “I take it you don’t want cream or sugar?”

“No, thank you.” Ted picked the bag up by the tag, listlessly dunking it in and out of the water. He was about as excited to drink that tea as he was to go on another morning run in less than 12 hours. But it was too late for coffee, and his diet didn’t allow for much else in the way of beverages.

“What’s so wrong with an older woman like her enjoying some eye candy?” Ted heard a voice to his right ask. Looking to the side, he saw a handsome man giving him a cheeky smile.

“Nothing, I guess,” Ted replied with a shrug.

“Well, alright then. Can’t begrudge old Millie for having some fun, can you? Once you stop having fun, you might as well just curl up and let them take you to the morgue.” Taking a sip from his mug, the stranger said a bit more quietly, “Least that’s what I think.”

“I’ve heard worse life philosophies.”

“It gets the job done,” the man stated. “Can’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that you forget what it’s all for.”

With furrowed brows, Ted looked back to the stranger and asked, “What is it all for?”

The stranger’s smile faded slowly as he looked back at Ted. “That’s an awfully grim question to be asking a stranger in a greasy spoon.”

Ted had meant to ask the stranger to clarify his philosophy, but that topic seemed too far gone at that point. “Yeah,” he conceded.

“You like bacon?” the stranger asked.

“Who doesn’t?” Ted chuckled. Granted, he hadn’t had bacon in months, so anyone on the outside looking in might not have known he did.

With a smile, the stranger motioned for Mildred. “Side of bacon for my friend here.”

It took Ted a moment to realize the stranger was talking about him. “What, me? No, no, I can’t order that.”

“You don’t have to,” the man told him. “I’ll do it for you. No blame on you whatsoever.”

Letting out a mixture of a chuckle and a sigh, Ted said, “Alright, I’ll take a side of bacon.”

With a smile, Mildred wrote the order down and passed the slip to the kitchen. Ted looked back to the stranger and told him, “You’re a bad influence.”

“If there weren’t a devil on your shoulder, the angel would have nothing to do.” Extending his hand, the man said, “Bam Arkwright.”

With a smile, Ted extended his own hand. “Ted Mason.” Bam’s handshake was firm but friendly.

After bringing Ted his plate of bacon, Mildred asked Bam, “More coffee?”

“Please,” he replied.

“Don’t you think you ought to go easy on the coffee?” Ted asked. “Or do you work night shifts?”

“I do not,” Bam replied. Reaching into the inside of his jacket, he pulled out a business card and handed it to Ted.

Looking under Bam’s name, Ted’s eyebrows rose as he read Bam’s job title: “Nutritionist?”

“At your service,” Bam confirmed.

“Then why did you order me that bacon?”

“Well, I could tell you that it’s because a small indulgence once in a while won’t ruin your entire diet. I could tell you that infrequent but consistent small indulgences make you less likely to fall off the wagon entirely, setting you back much farther than a plate of bacon will. I could tell you that, as far as indulgences go, one that’s low in carbs and sugar but high in fat and protein is one of the better ways to go.”

As Ted sat raptured by Bam’s explanation, Mildred brought him the aforementioned indulgence. Ted jumped in his seat, surprised by the clink it made as it came to rest on the counter. “You alright, dear?” she asked.

“Yeah, fine, thanks,” Ted assured her.

“I worry about you sometimes,” she said softly. As she walked away, she raised her voice to tell him, “Your omelette will be out shortly.”

Ted looked down at the plate, the four strips of bacon arranged like a pound sign. Once he looked back up to Bam, Bam concluded, “But I can tell you’ve had a long day, so let’s just go with: I’m off duty.”

After sitting still for a moment, Ted let out a chuckle, before picking up one of the pieces of bacon. He pointed it at Bam in a “cheers” sort of motion and took a bite.

Bam was already there when Ted arrived at Mildred’s about a week later. Looking toward the door, Bam gave Ted a wave as he leaned back against the counter, propping himself up with his other arm. Ted smiled as he walked up and sat next to Bam. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”

“Nah. Just got my coffee,” Bam assured him, lifting his mug. “Still haven’t decided what I want for dinner.”

“Well, I hope you don’t mind me ordering before you. I’m starving.”

“Have at it,” Bam chuckled, as Mildred approached from the far end of the counter.

“Ted, black tea?”

“Green, please,” Ted said. “And a veggie omelette.”

“Egg white?”

“Nah, not tonight.”

Mildred gave Ted a grin halfway between a smile and a smirk as she took down his order, before leaving to get his tea.

“So, what’s on your mind?”

After a pause, Ted asked, “What do you mean?”

“On the phone, you sounded like you had something you wanted to talk about. If it’s about nutrition, you should know that I don’t work for free,” he chuckled.

“What exactly do you do as a nutritionist?” Ted asked.

With a smile, Bam answered, “It’s not exactly a riddle. I help people adjust their eating habits to meet their nutritional needs. Lose weight. Gain weight. Build muscle. Get some disorder under control–”

“Did you say ‘gain weight’?” Ted interrupted.

“Yeah. Is that so surprising?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess I forgot about underweight people.”

“Some of them are underweight, yes.”

With a furrowed brow, Ted asked, “What sort of diet do you recommend for someone trying to gain weight?”

“Oh it’s very similar to the diet I recommend for my clients trying to lose weight, just with bigger portions. Eating healthy foods, just eating a lot of them. That’s the only major difference, aside from the success rate.”

“Success rate?”

“Oh yeah. It’s the biggest open secret in the industry that the long-term success rate of diet and exercise for weight loss is abysmally low. You’re far more likely to gain the weight back and more than you are to keep it off.”

Looking at Bam with wide eyes, Ted asked, “So where does that leave those of us who want to lose weight?”

“Do you really want to lose weight?” Bam asked.

With a sigh, Ted looked down at the counter and answered, “My doctor said I should.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Ted looked down in silence, letting out a heavy sigh as he contemplated his answer. “I’ve never really thought about it. It feels like asking myself if I really want to do laundry, or file my taxes. It’s just what you do.”

“That’s a risky venture, going through life doing things because it’s just what you do. It doesn’t feel risky, because it’s safe. But you might end up not knowing what it’s all for.”

“Okay,” Ted said, mildly aggravated. “When I asked you what it’s all for, I meant… You said, don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that you forget what it’s all for. What’s the ‘it” in your philosophy?”

“That’s different for everyone,” Bam said, staring ahead as he took a sip of his coffee. “What’s ‘it’ for me isn’t as important as what’s ‘it’ for you.” Turning toward Ted, he asked, “What is that ‘it’ for you?”

Ted was quiet again, looking down at the counter as he pondered what the answer to that question would be. He thought about his usual day: waking up early to go for a jog, going to work, eating an underwhelming lunch from the cafeteria because he’d given up the time he used to use to make lunch to go jogging, going to the gym after work to lift weights, then going home and making dinner. By then, he was too tired to do much of anything else, and watched TV until he fell asleep. Weekends were less busy, but rarely more exciting.

“This should be more interesting for you to look at.”

Ted jumped back as Mildred surprised him by putting his omelette in front of him. With an exhalation bordering on a sigh, he leaned forward again and took his utensils in hand. “Thanks, Milly. Can I get some toast, too?”

“White, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, or sourdough?”

“Rye, please.”

“Butter or something else? We can do peanut butter. That might work well with that little diet of yours.”

“Sure, thanks.”

As Mildred walked away, Ted stared at his omelette a while longer, before cutting off a big piece and taking a bite. He looked ahead as he chewed, for it was dawning on him that he hadn’t answered Bam’s question. He wasn’t sure he even had an answer..

“You don’t have to tell me the answer.” After taking another sip of his coffee Bam concluded, “It’s more important that you have an answer.”

“The more I thought about what you said, the more I realized how much I’ve been doing because I thought it’s just what you do. The jogging. The diet. The late nights at work. I actually like lifting weights,” Ted said more casually. “Makes me feel accomplished when I can push more weight than before. And unlike the jog, it’s satisfying.”

“That’s what it’s all about,” Bam told Ted as he drove the two of them around the city. A thin crescent moon hung in the night sky, and neither of them had a particular destination in mind. “The things you ‘just do’ aren’t inherently bad. You just gotta figure out which of them are best for you.”

“That’s where I’m at now, yeah,” Ted admitted. “I’ve figured out what I don’t want to do anymore. Now what do I do?”

“Whatever you want, man! You get to decide that now.”

Staring ahead at the oncoming road, Ted felt dazed as he considered the multitude of choices now available to him. That freedom had come with a sacrifice of direction, and he felt as aimless as the two’s drive. He had no idea where to start.

“I haven’t had a burger in so long.” The words came out of Ted’s mouth like a reflex. Like a yawn when he was tired, or a sneeze when his nose tickled.

“Sounds like a good start.” Flicking on his turn signal, Bam diverted them from their nonexistent course and turned toward downtown. Ted wasn’t sure where Bam was taking him, but he trusted him to pick a good spot.

The two ended up at Benny’s Burgers and Barbecue, an establishment unfamiliar to Ted. “I think this will be a good spot for you. The menu is somewhat small, so you won’t be overwhelmed with options. But everything here is delicious. You can’t go wrong.”

The two parked in the lot outside of the unassuming food stand. There were a half dozen people in line as Bam and Ted got out of the car. “You picked a good time,” Bam said. “The line is usually a lot longer.”

“That good, huh?” Ted asked.

“Oh yeah. Pick what you want now so you don’t hold up the line once it’s our turn. That’s not a good look.”

The big print on the menu to the side of the window made it easy for Ted to see his options as they waited. There were six different burgers and seven barbecue options, the latter of which Ted ignored as he pondered his order. As long as it had been since he’d had a burger, they all sounded delicious. But he managed to decide on something by the time the pair in the front of the line stepped aside, leaving him waiting impatiently.

“You seem high-strung,” Bam said.

“Is it obvious?” Ted chuckled. “It’s been so long since I had a burger, now that I’m finally about to have one, I don’t want to wait.”

“Patience,” Bam laughed in return.

Ted was relieved when the remaining four customers got in their orders speedily. When it was his turn, he was met by a hefty guy in a stained apron wearing a tank top and still holding a spatula in one hand. “What can I get ya, bub?”

“Um, a bacon cheddar burger, medium well, please.”

“Alright,” he said as he wrote the order down. “Anything else?”

Ted looked to Bam, who shook his head quietly. “That’s it.”

After giving his name and paying, Ted stepped to the side with the other customers, while the man went back to the grill. Ted didn’t have much to say as he waited, too eager to taste that burger to think about anything else. Once the customers who were ahead of them had all left with their orders, and they were waiting with a new group, he became even more excited, knowing he was next.

“Ted!” the cook called out, putting a brown paper bag on the counter. With a gleeful smile, Ted bounced ahead to pick up his burger. Once the bag was in hand, he giddily made his way back to Bam’s car, before realizing he might have left him behind. But Bam was right behind him, smiling as he casually strolled over. “Someone’s excited.”

“Yeah! Hey, how come you didn’t get anything?”

“I’m not hungry,” Bam said casually. “You are, though.”

Ted wouldn’t have necessarily agreed with that assessment–he and Bam had enjoyed a nice dinner, after all–but Bam was on the right track. Gleefully, he pulled the burger out of its bag and unwrapped it, exposing the girthy treat in all its decadent glory. With a grin, Ted took a bite.

“That was good, huh?”

Confused, Ted looked quizzically at Bam, before realizing his fingers and thumbs had come together, with only the flat wrapper between them. “How…”

“I told you you were hungry.”

Staring at the empty wrapper, Ted’s mouth hung agape, still watering at the prospect of the burger he’d waited so long to eat. The aftertaste hung on his taste buds, the only evidence he’s indeed eaten the burger, rather than it having somehow magically vanished. But the memory of eating it was as absent as the burger itself.

“You ate it awfully fast. Sometimes that happens when you deny yourself the occasional treat: once you have it again, you eat too ravenously to really enjoy it.”

Bam walked up to the hood of the car, stopping about a foot away from Ted. He felt uncomfortably close as Bam reached into the bag Ted’s burger had come in, pulling out a napkin. With a gentle smile, he wiped away the crumbs and stray sauce that adorned Ted’s face, taking his time and softly cleaning the mess away. Once he was done, he folded the napkin up and tossed it back in the bag, before stepping back again. “It also leads to something of a mess.”

“Heh, yeah,” Ted chuckled awkwardly.

“Try to savor it a bit more next time,” Bam suggested. “Unless you want to go back on your diet now.”

“Are you kidding?” Ted laughed. “Where should we go next?”

The styrofoam container in Ted’s lap held about 10 of the 50 wings it had come with. The wings were drenched in sauce, and so tender that they felt like they melted between his teeth. The lid, dangling over his knees, held the bones of the chicken he’d already eaten, a pile that was steadily growing. With the last wing eaten, Ted let out an unbridled belch. He closed the container and tossed it in the back, where it joined a small but growing pile of food refuse.

“Another one bites the dust,” Bam said as he gave Ted a few pats on the stomach. The sounds of his pats reverberated through the layer of flab that was forming around Ted’s midsection. After so much time spent touring all the food destinations that Bam recommended, all that food was starting to show on Ted’s figure. It was like a trophy for finally letting himself enjoy all the foods he’d once considered off-limits.

Besides, he thought: with the muscular frame he’d built by working out, he felt it suited him. He felt like he looked built, rather than like a guy who’d let himself go. Like those strongmen he’d seen lift logs on TV. Not that he could have done that himself, but he did feel like he was starting to develop their confidence. If he’d developed a belly like that before meeting Bam, he would have felt embarrassed about it. Now, when Bam patted it, it prompted him to do likewise.

But as full as Ted was, those pats left his stomach feeling uneasy as it was interrupted while digesting so much food. “Oof,” he grunted.

“Getting full?” Bam teased.

“Look at how much I’ve eaten,” Ted chuckled, motioning toward the pile of trash in the back. “Well, not right now. Look at the road right now. But, yeah, I’m full.”

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Bam’s voice was softer, smoother than it had been before.

“Yeah.” Ted’s answer was elongated, like a sigh of satisfaction. This time, he gently patted his stomach, knowing better than to show off again by thumping it too hard.

“What are you in the mood for next?”

Ted let out a chuckle before replying, “I don’t know if I should get anymore. Might not have room for it all.”

“I can fix that.”

Before Ted could ask how, he felt Bam’s hand on his stomach again. This time, rather than a quick touch, Bam brought his hand down gently on Ted’s belly and kept it there. He glided it across Ted’s stomach slowly, with just enough pressure for Ted to feel where it was traveling. It was a strange feeling at first, but before he could voice an objection, it turned into a pleasant sensation. It had the intimacy of a back rub, with an intensity as if Ted had grabbed his inner thigh.

Bam focused his rubs on the top of Ted’s belly, where Ted could feel how stretched his stomach was. To Ted’s surprise, that tight feeling was alleviated as Bam continued his slow motions. The protestations of his stomach gave way to a calm satisfaction. Like the feeling of lying on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner, a warm contentment that let his thoughts drift away.

“How you feeling now?” Bam asked.

“Like I could go for something sweet.”

“I know a spot,” Bam said confidently.

After some more driving, which gave Ted time to digest, Bam pulled up outside a shop called Night Baking. “24 hour bakery, and the food is good, too. But their doughnuts are the best.”

“It’s like you read my mind,” Ted chuckled. “A doughnut sounds great right now.”

With a laugh of his own, Bam departed from the car. “I’ll be right back.”

“Wait! You don’t even know what I want!”

“I’ve gotten a pretty good idea,” Bam told him as he stood outside of the car, leaning over so his head was lower than the roof. “Chocolate is a sure bet, avoid anything fruit flavored, peanut butter is okay but nuts aren’t, and something with a filling is preferable over a ring-shaped one.”

“I… yeah, that about sums it up.”

“I’ve been paying attention,” Bam assured him with a finger gun.

As he watched Bam saunter toward the bakery, Ted found his hand traveling absentmindedly to his stomach. His fingers glided across his shirt, which was wrapped snugly around his midsection, making it easy to feel the flab underneath. After all those years of fighting to keep his weight down, he wasn’t used to his abdomen feeling so soft. Giving it a squeeze, he took a sharp breath as he felt his fingers sink in.

Ted kept playing with his new flab until he saw Bam return with a box in hand. Bam grinned at Ted through the windshield before getting back inside.

“How many did you get?”

“Just a half dozen. After everything you ate, I didn’t want to overdo it.”

“You don’t think this is overdoing it?”

Bam barely let out a chuckle as he opened the box, revealing an appealing selection that Ted couldn’t help being enraptured by. Some had sprinkles, most were covered in a chocolate glaze, and all of them were solid in the middle, indicating they were filled. They all looked delicious.

“Take your pick.” Slowly, Ted reached toward a chocolate covered plain doughnut, the kind that looked like it had a fudge filling. “Good choice.” With a smile, Ted took a bite. To his delight, his prediction about the filling was true. The rich fudge delighted his taste buds, drawing him in for another bite before he’d swallowed his first. Ted wolfed down the doughnut until it was reduced to crumbs and fudge smudged on the side of his lips.

“You got a little something there,” Bam said, pointing to the side of his mouth. Ted opened up to lick the spot where his lips met, tasting quite a bit of fudge. “Here, let me get it.”

Before Ted could ask Bam what he meant, Bam had already picked up another doughnut and brought it up to Ted’s mouth, where he slid it in. In his surprise, Ted’s jaw closed, and he took a bite. The doughnut was chocolate inside and out, with a filling more reminiscent of ganache than fudge. It was rich and deep in flavor, making him yearn for another bite as soon as he’d swallowed the first. Bam obliged, placing the doughnut farther into Ted’s mouth.

The two continued this way until Ted had finished the doughnut, licking his lips clean so as to not miss any of the delectable treat. Once he was all finished, Bam asked, “Would you like another?”

“Yes please,” Ted answered, the words escaping his mouth before he could give them any thought. In the back of his mind, he knew that Bam feeding him doughnuts was deserving of at least a few questions, one being “Why?” But in a way he couldn’t put his finger on, it felt right. Especially as he didn’t have to lift a finger to keep the doughnuts coming, with Bam more than happy to do the job for him.

Ted wasn’t sure how long it had been since he’d visited the breakroom’s vending machine for a snack. At least an hour and a half, he reasoned, maybe even two. His post-lunch snack had already been digested quickly enough to leave him wanting more. And though the clock said 4:07, leaving only 53 minutes between him and his departure, he knew having something to nibble on would help that time pass faster.

With a grunt, Ted got up from his chair and strolled to the break room. As he walked, he could feel the growing layer of flab around his stomach bouncing when his feet hit the floor. It didn’t help that he was wearing the same button-down shirts that he’d worn before he met Bam, which weren’t as baggy as they used to be. The tight fit made him even more aware of his growing heft, and yet, he couldn’t bring himself to be upset about it. There was something alluring about taking up more space than he could before.

Not that he took up that much more space. He still had no problem passing his coworkers in the hallways, exchanging a smile and a nod. If anything had changed, it was that he found it easier to smile at his coworkers those days. It didn’t feel so forced, so phony.

Rounding the corner, Ted came upon the machine. After slipping a dollar in through the slot, he pressed the right buttons to get himself a bag of white-cheddar-covered popcorn. He leaned over carefully, mindful that he was straining his shirt buttons harder than usual, and pulled it out. With a smile, he turned to walk back to his desk.

Only to collide with someone else turning the corner. He was short and slender, wearing a light yellow button-down short-sleeve shirt, and with teeth that seemed a size too big for him, easily visible with his mouth open in surprise. “Sorry,” he blabbered, as Ted recognized him as Mario from accounting.

“Oh no, here, let me help,” Ted blurted out, reaching down to help Mario pick up his stack of papers. In the commotion, he didn’t notice a small ripping sound, nor the button on the front of his shirt flying well past Mario, fortunately not taking an eye out as it did.

Once the two men stood back up, Ted handed his stack of papers to Mario. “Thanks,” Mario said bashfully. “Sorry again.”

“Oh no, that was my fault. I should have been looking where I was going,” Ted assured him. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just a bit frazzled. And, I mean, what else is new?” Mario laughed, trying to mask his discomfort and only getting about halfway there. His eyes flitted back and forth a moment longer before he spoke again. “Um… did you know your shirt is missing a button?”

Looking down, Ted discovered that one of his shirt buttons had indeed popped off. “Ah, so that’s why the shirt was feeling looser,” he commented, getting a chuckle out of Mario. “I guess that’s what I get for making so many trips to the vending machine.”

“If you’re spending that much on snacks, you could probably save money by bringing in your own. Then you wouldn’t have to make so many trips either.”

Ted’s eyebrows rose momentarily, before he smiled and said, “I like your thinking.”

Mario pulled his papers a little closer to himself and raised his shoulders while giving Ted a smile of his own. “Always happy to help,” he replied, before walking off.

Ted leaned back against the hood of Bam’s car, propping himself up with his hands perched on the hood. With his eyes closed, he waited for the slice of pizza to touch both sides of his mouth. That was his indication that Bam had stuck it in as far as he could, and now it was time to do his part. He took a bite and chewed the meat and cheese and sauce and bread until he got it all down, then dutifully opened his mouth for another.

While he could have kept his eyes open, he liked the surprise of not knowing just how much he’d eaten. He wouldn’t know for sure when he was almost done with a slice until Bam would turn it sideways to have him eat the crust. Then he knew he was nearing the end, and another piece of pizza had joined the growing pile in his belly. How many was that now? Four? Five?

“Atta’boy. Nice, big bites. Enjoy it.”

Ted let out a contented “Mmm” as he chewed, taking in his third course of the night in what had become his and Bam’s regular tours of the city’s eateries. The once sporadic events had become a fixture of their weeks that both men looked forward to. Every Friday night, Ted would duck out of work early so he and Bam could have plenty of time to drive around, and he’d have plenty of time to eat. At the end of the night, he’d go home with a nice, full belly, waddle up to his apartment, collapse in bed, and fall asleep rubbing his tight gut. As far as he was concerned, it was the perfect way to end the work week.

But the gluttony of those Fridays had found its way into the other days of Ted’s week. In addition to his more frequent snacking at work, he was making more trips to drive thrus on the way home. When he cooked, his portions were bigger, requiring him to stock his fridge with more food when he went out for groceries. Fortunately, he had plenty more space now that he was no longer storing leftovers after a meal.

All that eating was adding up, and Ted’s soft midsection had widened into a bona fide belly. There was no hiding it under baggy shirts anymore, no brushing it off as a natural fluctuation in weight. He hadn’t let himself go; he’d embraced a new lifestyle. There was no denying it anymore.

“You’re getting fat,” Bam teased as he cupped the bottom of Ted’s belly in his hand, bouncing it up and down as he shoved what remained of the slice of pizza into Ted’s mouth. With a contented and affirming, “Mmmm,” Ted closed his lips around the remaining crust and chewed it until he could swallow it all.

“You like it, don’t you?” Bam asked, his tone making clear that he already knew the answer. With both hands free, he let them glide around Ted’s belly, demonstrating just how wide Ted’s midsection had grown.

Ted’s belly was now wider than his chest by about an inch on each side, and stuck out a good few inches over his belt. He might have been able to pass it off as a “dad bod” to someone who didn’t know him in his thinner days. But there was no fooling Bam, who rubbed his belly as he finished chewing his bite. It was difficult to get down with how much he’d already eaten, but get it down he did, with a sigh of satisfaction. “Where’s the next slice?” he panted.

“You already ate the whole thing,” Bam told him. He continued rubbing Ted’s very full gut, providing a sense of relief from Ted’s intense feeling of fullness.

But as full as he was, Ted was sure that couldn’t have been the last slice. “That didn’t feel like eight slices.”

“A large pizza doesn’t seem quite as large when it’s going into a bigger belly like yours,” Bam told him, his tone smooth and confident, assuring Ted he knew what he was talking about. “I think you’ve just proved that, tubby.”

“Wha–what did you call me?”

“Would you argue you aren’t tubby, tubby?”

“No, I guess not,” Ted chuckled. “Just haven’t heard it before.”

“You’ll get used to it, tubby. With how you’ve been eating? This isn’t going to go anywhere,” Bam promised him, shaking Ted’s gut more vigorously, goading a groan out of Ted as the contents of his packed stomach were disrupted by the shake. “Yeah, you’re getting nice and fat.”

The sound of a sharp inhalation jolted both Ted and Bam out of their little session, drawing their attention to a man who was standing by the driver’s seat door of a car parked next to Bam’s. His black hair topped a relatively round face, decorated with a goatee that framed his open mouth. The door was still open, and his hand rested on it as he watched with eyes open wide, as if he’d gotten out of his car and froze as soon as he’d seen the two.

“Can I help you?” Bam asked, barely sounding sarcastic, as if it were a genuine question.

“Can I be next?” The man’s voice was raspy, his speech quick, like he’d rushed to blurt out the question before he could have any second thoughts about asking it.

Ted and Bam stared quizzically at the man, before they looked back to each other. As they pondered the question with brows furrowed, Ted felt like he could read Bam’s mind as he mulled his answer over. And when Bam raised eyebrows, which fell again as a smile grew on his face, Ted was sure he knew exactly what Bam had in mind.

Bam and Ted’s Friday night crew had expanded to include three other men who joined them for their gluttonous tours. There was Drew, the man who’d asked Bam if he could be next on that fateful night. After one night of less-than-successful double feedings, the trio decided they’d be better off spending their nights restaurant hopping. This had the added benefit of allowing Bam to keep pressuring them to order more, to take advantage of the opportunity to eat before they moved on to the next spot. With the added visibility of dining in, the group expanded more than just in their waistlines.

Marcello was the next to join. He was a man who enjoyed food and was the fattest of the bunch. He wore tight shirts that showed off the rotundity and heft of his gut, like a bag of grain struggling to hold its bounty. Finally there was Kyle, who was barely more than skin and bone when he joined the group. Bam assured him that he could fix that if Kyle gave him a few months.

All the while, Ted kept growing like he always had. Though he didn’t have Bam directly feeding him anymore, he did have the friendly competition of trying to one-up the other guys with how much he could eat. He usually had a leg up on Drew, and he could wipe the floor with Kyle. But matching Marcello proved to be more of a challenge. Though Ted had more practice eating past the point of fullness, Marcello simply had more stomach capacity.

But Ted kept pushing, intent on being able to match anyone in the group. Though he wasn’t the biggest, being the first left him feeling like he had some kind of honor to defend. And with every Friday night where he came closer to eating as much as Marcello did, he could feel himself getting closer to cementing that status.

The night Ted finally bested Marcello, the group was at a barbecue restaurant. Marcello, who enjoyed wings, had nearly filled a paper bag to the top with bones. Kyle has been laid low by two burgers, while Drew had fared better, enjoying a steak and a rack of ribs along with several sides. Ted had lost track of how much he’d eaten; all he knew was that he’d been able to match Marcello order for order.

Bam was seated between Kyle and Ted, with a hand on each man’s belly. While Ted kept at it, Kyle leaned back in his seat, groaning at a volume barely audible over the hubbub of the restaurant. “You did such a good job,” Bam told him quietly. “It wasn’t that long ago that you could barely finish one burger. Now look at you.” With a smile, he gently patted Kyle’s belly, causing Kyle to groan a little louder. “We’re going to take care of that skinny frame of yours in no time.”

Drew snacked on his fries as Ted doggedly kept pace with Marcello. With every appetizer Marcello ordered, Ted ordered one as well. Ditto for entrees, sides, and desserts. And though his belly felt packed past capacity, he intended to keep shoving food in until Marcello called it quits. Marcello, meanwhile, ate casually, acting like he was unaware of this rivalry between him and Ted. But Ted knew better, and wasn’t going to let Marcello’s nonchalance deceive him into going easy.

To Ted’s relief, Marcello declined to order anything else just as Ted was feeling like he would pop if he ate anymore. With a smirk on his face, Ted reached toward the basket of cornbread in the middle of the table, and took the remaining piece. Slowly he brought it to his mouth and took a bite. With labored chewing, he was eventually able to swallow it, and dropped the rest on his plate. “I win,” he said quietly, too full to speak loudly.

“Hell yeah you did,” Bam said softly. As he slowly rubbed his hand around the top of Ted’s gut, Ted let his head lean back and let out a contented “Mmm.” The tightness of his belly was both accentuated and relieved by Bam’s masterful touch. As his gut struggled to contain a small mountain of food, the relief Bam provided made it all feel worth it, even knowing he would struggle to get out of the booth.

“Here’s your check, no rush, gentlemen.”

“Thank you,” Bam said as he picked up the bill. Bam always paid for the group’s impressive meals on those nights out, something Ted was especially thankful for. In the past few weeks, it seemed he was always shorter on funds than he expected. He knew buying all those snacks for work and all that take-out on the drives home would put a dent in his wallet, but the chunk it was taking out of his budget was more like a crater than a dent.

Given how big he was growing, though, Ted supposed that was to be expected. As he tried to scoot out of the booth, pain shot through his belly as it resisted his attempts. “Sitting in a booth was a mistake,” he chuckled.

“You’re the one who didn’t want to wait 15 minutes for a table,” Marcello reminded him.

“And I was wrong,” Ted retorted, making the other guys chuckle.

“Want some help?” Marcello asked.

“No, no, I got it,” Ted grunted as he continued pushing. After a few more exertions, he was finally able to stand up, freeing a belch that he barely managed to muffle with his hand. “Excuse me,” he muttered as he leaned back, feeling like his center of gravity had shifted with all the new weight in front of him.

“Well, I think that’s a successful night, gents,” Bam proclaimed. After patting the side of Ted’s belly, goading a groan out of him, he started walking out of the restaurant, where the rest of the group followed. Once he’d recovered from the mild impact, Ted waddled after them.

As the group crossed the parking lot, they heard someone call out, “Hey, guys?” from the front entrance. Turning around, they saw a man of reasonable heft approaching them, doing the sort of jog one might do when crossing the street after a car stopped for them. His respectably-sized belly bounced as he came closer. “Sorry to bother you, but I couldn’t help but overhear you guys talking and watch how you eat. That was… really impressive.”

The group’s words overlapped as they thanked the man for his compliment, all standing taller to better display their respective bellies. Bam had a grin on his face and stood up tall as well, proud of his collection of growing men.

“Especially the way you’re so open and unashamed about your love of eating. It’s an attitude I really admire. One I wish I got to experience more often. So, I was wondering if you… might have room for another in your group?”

At that, Bam took on a more pensive expression. By then, he and Ted were familiar with such requests, having gotten three of them already. “I really would love to have you join us. But with this many of us, it would be harder to keep the tradition going. Harder to find tables so easily wherever we go. Harder to drive us all around. And I don’t want to leave any of you chubs out of this wonderful thing we have going.”

With his chin in his hand, Bam thought a while longer, furrowing his eyebrows as his eyes darted between this potential addition to their group and all the current members. After a moment of pondering, he reached inside his jacket and handed a business card to the new guy. “I’ll figure something out. Text me so I can let you know when I do.”

After taking the business card in hand, the man looked back at Bam with a smile. “Okay, thank you. I’m Sven.”

“Bam,” he returned, giving Sven a nod before he and the rest of the group walked back to his car. “That goes for the rest of you too. Keep an eye out. We might be meeting somewhere new next week.”

The group walked for a while longer before Kyle asked, “Hey Bam, how come it would be hard to drive us all around if he joined the group?”

Ted looked at Kyle with raised eyebrows, but Bam was quick to answer. “Fellas, just like your bellies, this group is just going to keep growing. I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t given much thought to how to handle that growth. I was just too caught up in enjoying watching you eat,” he said, patting Marcello on the side of his gut and making him chuckle proudly. “But I can tell that even if I buy a seven-seat SUV, it won’t be long before we’ve outgrown that too. Even if we found someone who’s licensed to drive a bus, that wouldn’t solve the problem that it’s going to be harder to get tables where we can all sit. We’re going to have to think bigger.” Bam was silent for a moment before he concluded. “Give me a week. I’ll figure something out.”

Ted peered up and down the sidewalk to make sure no one was looking his way, before ducking into the alleyway off the scarcely used back street. He pulled out his phone and pulled up Bam’s direction, scrolling down to the stern warning that marked where he’d stopped reading:

Don’t let anyone see you go down the alleyway. Some new guys will be joining us. If you see someone hanging out around the alley, go somewhere else long enough to give him a chance to duck in unseen. Once you’re in the alley, go to the first door on your left. It’s meant to be exit-only, but I’ll leave a brick to prop it open. Don’t move the brick. Don’t be a dick.

The door was open just slightly enough for Ted to notice it once he got close. As he approached it, he was able to see a faint bit of light peeking out from the other side. True to his word, Bam had left a brick between the door and its frame. After making another quick glance at the alley entrance and seeing no one watching him, he’d slipped inside.

Ted found himself in a stairwell, with dimly lit downward stairs to his left and completely unlit upward stairs to his right. He was glad that Bam’s instructions had told him to go left, into the basement. “You can’t miss it,” they ended.

Turning right at the bottom of the stairwell, Ted saw an unfinished basement decorated with little more than columns. There were five men congregating by a few folding chairs and tables, the kind one used when the furniture wasn’t intended as a permanent fixture. Ted recognized Drew, Kyle, and Sven, but two were new to him. It seemed Bam had recruited some new guys to join their group, just as he promised.

“Of course I did,” Ted heard Bam say, causing him to jump as he turned around to see Bam behind him. Bam was leaning against the wall to the right of the door to the stairwell, and bore a confident smile. After pushing himself off the wall, he ambled toward Ted, saying, “Glad you could make it.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Ted assured him. “Isn’t this the same building your practice is in?”

“Sure is. That’s how I knew this basement wasn’t being used for anything. And how I could access the janitorial schedules to know we wouldn’t be interrupted.”

“But what if you’re caught? Wouldn’t they kick you out?”

“That’s why I told everyone to make sure they aren’t followed.”

“And you think everyone will be that safe?”

“If they want to keep coming here, they will,” Bam muttered, before walking back to resume leaning against the wall.

Ted joined the others while he waited for the time to pass. Drew, Kyle, and Sven greeted him warmly, as did the new guys, Tito and Vincent. “It’s so nice to meet you in person,” Vincent said, shaking Ted’s hand with a wide grin. He was a short guy with a nervous voice, not quite the proud eater the other memebers of the group had become. “Thanks so much for organizing this,”

“Oh, well, I can’t claim all the credit,” Ted said, looking back at Bam. He felt awkward taking any credit, but it did make him feel warm inside to see what their weekly nights of eating had grown into.

“I was just telling these other guys here, you know, I felt like such a freak for wanting to eat like crazy and get fatter. I kept it under wraps for so long, thinking I’d take it to my grave. So to find out that there are other guys like me? That alone was a mind-blower. And then to come here and know I’ll finally be able to let out that side of myself?” Vincent had worked himself up into a frenzy, breathing heavily as the others in the group often did once they’d filled their stomachs by the end of the night.

“You’re gonna love it,” Drew assured him, patting him on the back. As he smiled at Drew, it dawned on Ted that Drew had filled out quite a bit since that night when he first interrupted Bam and Ted’s feeding session. His face had rounded out more, with the distinction between his cheeks and double chin having grown even more ambiguous. His belly had swelled out in every direction, sticking out with its own presence as the undeniable centerpiece of his body. He was no longer just chubby. He was fat.

“I know I’ve only known most of you for, like, minutes. But it already feels like I’ve found a new family.”

“Aww,” Kyle said, starting a group hug as everyone else surrounded Vincent, wrapping him or whoever was wrapped around him in their arms. Ted smiled as he embraced the group from the outside, wrapping up whomever he could as tightly as he could.

The group continued their good-hearted conversation for a while longer, until Marcello and another new face emerged from the stairwell. Each man carried a large, black garbage bag, slung over their shoulders as they grunted under the weight. “Thank you, gentlemen,” Bam called out from the wall.

“Pleasure,” Marcello replied, the strain obvious in his voice. He and the new guy approached the tables, each putting his bag down on top of one. With a sigh of relief, Marcello wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

With the bags now lying on the table, their contents spilled out. One held doughnuts and other pastries, while the other contained burgers and other foods one would find at a fast food establishment. The rest of the group all raised their eyebrows upon seeing this feast. “Where did you get all this?” Drew asked.

“There’s a problem in this country, gents,” Bam said, pushing off the wall once again before walking toward the tables. “Every day, tons upon tons of perfectly good food gets thrown out by stores and restaurants that literally aren’t allowed to give it away, even if they wanted to. Marcello and Val here just so happen to work at two such establishments, and told me about the utterly egregious amount of food that goes right in the dumpster. So instead, I asked them to bring it here.”

“So we’re just dumpster diving?” Tito asked.

“No, no,” Val assured him. “This food came right from the shelves to you.”

“Then why is it in garbage bags?” Kyle said indignantly.

“Easiest way to sneak it out,” Marcello answered calmly. “We tossed the bags that were in the barrels already, and put clean, new bags in. Then when we went to throw those bags out, we brought them to our cars instead. Those are the bags in front of you.” Marcello looked back at his bag, the one overflowing with burgers and other such sandwiches. “It’s good stuff. I wouldn’t bring you guys garbage.”

“Me neither,” Val was quick to add.

“You see, everyone,” Bam continued, “This little club of ours isn’t going to stop growing. Look at us now: we’ve nearly doubled in size, something I expect some of you will achieve individually too,” he added with a smirk. “And if we’re going to feed you growing boys, the usual methods aren’t going to cut it. When we met in restaurants, we could keep ordering food until you were too full to move. But takeout? Catering? Either we don’t order enough food to get you nice and stuffed, or we spend too much money on food that doesn’t get eaten. And even if I were made of money, coordinating that much takeout or catering would be a logistical nightmare.”

“What about delivery?” Vincent asked.

“I did say make sure you weren’t followed. Now you want to give away our location to every restaurant in the area?” Bam said, causing the other guys to chuckle as Vincent’s cheeks became red. “And so, I organized to relieve these restaurants of food that was only going to get tossed out, wasted, thrown away. As we gain new members, we’ll have new people who can bring leftover food from wherever they work. And so the supply grows with us.”

“It doesn’t all get tossed out,” Drew chimed in. “Sometimes it gets sold to farms to feed the pigs.”

“I guess that makes us the pigs now,” Tito quipped, eliciting a mix of chuckles and cheers from the rest of the group.

Bam’s smile grew even wider as the group affirmed their love for the idea. “Well pigs, it’s feeding time. Pick a table and get eating.”

Everyone in the group did as instructed, Ted included, all excited to start their feast. With boisterous enthusiasm, they took seats around the tables. Most sat around the burger bag, while a few went for the doughnuts and pastries first. “Nothing wrong with eating dessert first, boys,” Bam assured them. “There are only so many seats around each table. Let’s try to not crowd anyone out.”

“There’s enough room for everyone,” Marcello assured him. Looking around, Ted saw that all five chairs at the fast food table were taken, which he supposed made Marcello technically right. With a shrug, he reached forward and took a chicken sandwich, knowing the seating situation would work itself out.

The mood around the tables that night remained jolly, with the men chatting about their love of food, love of being fat, and the relief of finding a group who understood that. Only so much chatting could take place, however, as the men stuffed their faces with food. Ted had seen Drew, Marcello, and Kyle put on some impressive displays of gluttony in their nights out. But it seemed even they’d curtailed their voraciousness under the watch of the general public. With no such judgement to be found in that basement that night, they were even more eager to wolf down their feasts. And though the new faces that night were surrounded by people just as unfamiliar to them, they were equally unbridled and unashamed in how they ate.

All the while, Bam walked around the tables, smiling proudly as he watched the men gorge themselves. “Keep on eating,” he commented as he passed by Kyle, patting his stomach just enough to get a groan out of the overfed twig of a man, before he dutifully took another doughnut. “Doing great, big guy,” he said as he rubbed Marcello’s belly, motivating Marcello to take a massive bite of his burger.

With time, the group found an equilibrium with how many sat at each table. Each person moved back and forth after they’d had their fill of fast food or doughnuts and pastries, keeping things varied as they slowly but surely emptied the bags. Ted wasn’t sure how much anyone else was eating, but he knew that the lively atmosphere had enabled him to eat more than usual. A half dozen doughnuts and a dozen sandwiches all took their place in his stomach, along with other pastries and sides from both bags. Though he kept snacking on doughnut holes and other morsels that made their way out of the bags, he was reaching his limit.

That seemed to be the case for the other guys too. Once eager to fill themselves with whatever they could get their hands on, they were now leaning back in their chairs, rubbing their distended stomachs in between reaching over them for a few more bites. The conversation carried on as sporadically as before, with food coma replacing full mouths in dissuading the men from talking.

Once the room became relatively quiet, Bam spoke up: “I can see you’ve all enjoyed yourselves,” he boasted, to groans of affirmation from all the stuffed men. “I’d say this was a successful first night of this new way of doing things. Plenty of room for everyone, and plenty of food to get you all nice and stuffed.” He patted a few more bellies as he walked around the tables, a procession of moans following him as he did.

“I’ve been thinking about pigs since Drew brought them up,” Bam continued. “Pigs don’t limit how much they eat based on some arbitrary idea of what’s an appropriate amount. If a farmer gives them food, they will eat it, until they are happy.” His voice was growing louder as he talked, a passion rising up with his words. “Why don’t we do the same? It’s food. It exists so that you can eat it. But we’ve become so ungrateful for the bounty we’ve been given, that we turn it away and ask, ‘What if I get fat?’” he parroted mockingly, to the laughter of the other men.

“I see gratitude in this room tonight. I see men who don’t take food for granted. I see men who appreciate abundance, and have no qualms about showing that appreciation. I see men who are like pigs in the best way possible. And so, I was thinking, we ought to call this group of ours ‘The Pen’.”

“Like the thing you write with?” Vincent asked.

“Like a pig pen,” Bam corrected, getting some chuckles out of the group while Vincent leaned back with an embarrassed smile. “It’s a pig’s home, and I’ve heard more than one of you say you feel at home here among men like you. Men unafraid to eat with gusto. Men comfortable in their ample bodies. Men looking to grow nice and fat, just like a good pig does.” The group’s enthusiastic affirmations made Bam‘s smile grow into a grin.

“Don’t pigs get fattened up so they can get… you know,” Drew hesitated. “Eaten?”

Get fattened up, yes,” Bam repeated, emphasizing the passive voice. “But you’re not getting fattened up. You’re doing it because you want to! Think of yourselves like wild hogs, feasting to their heart’s content,” Bam enthused, looking up enthusiastically like he was proclaiming prophecy.

“Wild hogs don’t live in pens.”

Bam kept his eyes toward the ceiling as he let out a sigh, his stance deflating. “If you have a better name, I’m more than receptive,” he said with a more measured tone. “In the meantime, I think everyone else is quite happy with The Pen.” The group’s cheers were enough to answer Bam’s question.

Four… five… six… With a strained grunt, Ted pushed against the vertical surface of the leg press machine. He was moving quite a bit of weight, 270 pounds. But he knew he couldn’t get complacent with his leg workouts. If he wanted them strong enough to carry all the weight he was adding, he had to keep pushing them harder.

Seven… eight… Simultaneously, a different obstacle was affecting his workout. The bigger his belly grew, the more it got in the way as he bent his legs. If he moved quickly enough, he could bounce his thighs against his gut and make the extension easier. He had to be extra careful to take his time with the motion, and not take any shortcuts, or else he wouldn’t get stronger.

Nine… ten. As Ted came to his last rest, he let out a sigh of relief once the seat went as far down as it could. He slid his legs to the side and rested them on the floor, before leaning forward with some heavy breaths. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat off his forehead, before lifting the front of his tank top to sop up the rest. Exhaling again, he pushed himself up off the seat, leaning forward to bring his belly above his feet so he could stand up.

Once Ted was upright, he let out another sigh and pulled his tank top down. He tried to be on top of buying new clothes as quickly as he outgrew them, but occasionally he fell behind on one item or another. That time, it was his gym shirts. He didn’t exactly want his shirts to be baggy, but when he was out in public, he preferred that his shirts at least go down to his belt line. And that day, he was having a hard time keeping it there.

“Looks like that’s getting in your way,” a man chuckled from the nearby free weights shelf.

“Guess so,” Ted chuckled back.

“You won’t have that problem once you lose that,” the man assured Ted, pointing to his rotund stomach.

With a laugh, Ted patted the side of his belly as he gave the man a confident stare. “Lose this? Not a chance.”

Ted’s smile grew even wider as he beheld the man’s befuddled expression. Straightening his back so his belly stuck out even more, he turned around to head to the water cooler.

On the way, he saw a new yet familiar face walk into the gym. “Mario?”

“Ted?” Mario said, stopping in place as his eyes drifted none-too-subtly down to Ted’s expanded midsection. “Hey! Uh, been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Ted chuckled. “Well, I took your advice about bringing my own snacks to the office, so I don’t really go to the vending machine anymore.”

“Got it. That would explain a few things,” Mario said quietly, head tilted down but still looking Ted in the eyes and smiling. “Do you, uh, come here often?” he blurted out, rushing to fill the silence.

“I do. Every weekday after work. It helps me burn off some stress, and stay strong to, well, carry all this around,” Ted laughed as he patted the side of his gut. He put on a bit of a self-deprecating tone, as he knew folks outside of The Pen weren’t used to seeing a confident fat guy. But he couldn’t fully hide the confidence he’d gained along with his weight.

Though Mario’s laughter seemed a bit embarrassed, he still smiled as his eyes lingered on Ted’s belly. It took him a few seconds to remember himself and look Ted in the eyes instead. “Well, uh, it’s my first day here. But if this place gets your vote of confidence, then I’m sure I’ll be coming back.”

“Guess I’ll be seeing you more often then,” Ted said with a smile.

“Yeah! If not in the office, then at least here.”

“You missed me?” Ted asked playfully.

Mario laughed, but kept his answer to himself, still gazing down at Ted’s belly, before snapping his eyes back to look Ted in the eye, before his eyes made their way back down. “Well, uh, I better get started so I can get out of here before it’s too late.”

“You do that,” Ted said, resuming his walk to the next machine in his routine. “I’ll see you around.”

Two dozen members of The Pen sat around five bags of food, having their fill and then some, with burps and boastful words aplenty. Ted was enjoying some pizza and breadsticks, while thinking about how thankful he was for the increase in membership, and the increased variety of foods it had brought to the meeting. It was good consolation to the hit he took to his pride now that he was no longer the guy with the biggest appetite there, as some truly heavyweight men had joined their ranks. These were men who clearly loved overeating before they’d joined The Pen, and were just happy to find a group of likeminded guys.

There was Raul, who waddled his way into every meeting before waddling out even more slowly. His belly hung out over his waistline like a pile of laundry about to fall off its designated chair. Given that he was the one who brought the pizza, breadsticks, and other Italian fare, Ted couldn’t get that mad at him when he ate everyone else under the table at his first meeting. The sight of him needing two other men’s help to get up certainly didn’t hurt either.

Then there was Antwon. Whereas many of the men came into the group ostensibly for their love of food, Antwon could reasonably claim to have been built different. The man didn’t love food as much as he loved just eating, piling away amounts of food that made even those in the group drop their jaws in awe, usually with mouths still full. He ate with the focus and dedication of a competitive eater, yet he could surely put away more than most of them, and then eat what they had left over.

In a standard dining setting, even a buffet, they would have been the main attraction for people watching. But in a place like The Pen, they were just the more enthusiastic eaters. Weeks of meeting together and encouraging gluttony in each other had led to the men all eating with a gusto that would have made the original five’s restaurant trips seem stately by comparison. In an effort to outdo themselves and each other, the men would shovel in food as fast they could to fill up before they could feel full. They would then push through, wolfing down even more, and helping each other keep the feasting going. When one man would feel too full to keep eating, leaning back and rubbing his distended belly, another would take food in both hands and feed himself and the other. The fuller one would chew slowly but determinedly, intent on eating as much as he could, even when too full to bring food to his own mouth.

But one night, Drew wasn’t eating quite as enthusiastically as everyone else. Drew had become an impressive chub in his own right, bulging out of shirts that would have been baggy on him when the group started meeting. His belly was wide enough to force his legs apart as he leaned toward the table. And yet, from how he was eating that night, one wouldn’t have understood how he’d grown so fat. “Drew,” Ted said, “You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Drew replied in badly feigned assurance.

“Drew. You could have gone to a restaurant if you wanted to eat like that. What’s up?”

“Eat like what?” Drew asked as he tried to laugh Ted off, while holding a single French fry in his hand. Ted merely tilted his head down at Drew, which was enough to get Drew to sigh and lower his head. “It’s Brendan.”

“Your boyfriend?”

With a despondent nod, Drew continued, ”He’s not happy with how much weight I’ve put on.” Some of the other men sitting at the table slowed down their eating and looked up toward Drew. “You know, I thought I’d finally become the person I was truly meant to be. I thought I’d shed my old self like clothes I’d outgrown. But then he says, ‘We have to talk.’”

All the other men at the table were now eating a more standard pace, chewing and swallowing as they gave their attention to Drew and his story. Their eyes were sympathetic, though their mouths were still full.

“He confronts me about the weight gain. I tell him I’m fine, that it’s nothing to worry about. He tells me, no one gets this fat this fast unless it’s something to worry about. We keep going back and forth, and eventually I blurt out in frustration, ‘I did it on purpose.’” The silence at Drew and Ted’s table made the sounds of the hurried eating at the other tables all the more pronounced. But none of the men who were listening dared interrupt Drew.

“He wouldn’t even look at me. Hasn’t since. The silence at our apartment is painful.” Drew lifted his hand to eat the French fry he was holding, but after shaking a moment, his hand fell back on the table. Sighing, he asked, “Am I making the wrong choice? Am I–”

“You said you wanted to shed your old self. Like clothes that don’t fit anymore.” Bam walked up behind Drew, evidently having overheard his story. “Sometimes we don’t just outgrow clothes. Sometimes we outgrow people. When you wear a mask for so long, you’ll befriend people who want to be friends with the person you pretended to be. Once you take the mask off, those people won’t be interested anymore. And if you try to keep them around, it’s like forcing yourself into old clothes that just dig into your fat now,” Bam said as he patted one of Drew’s ample love handles. As the vibrations rippled across his gut, Drew took a sharp inhalation as he nodded again.

“But you don’t have to force yourself into those old clothes. And you don’t have to keep people in your life who don’t understand who you really are. You’ll buy new clothes, and you’ll find new friends. Like everyone here,” Bam concluded, stretching his arms to point to everyone present at the meeting that night. The other men at the table all agreed, voicing their affirmation through full mouths that muffled any actual syllables they uttered. “And I’m going to prove it to you.”

After walking away from the table, Bam spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear him: “Listen up, pigs! One of our own has been on the receiving end of some unsympathetic words from someone who doesn’t support his new lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that.”

“Oh god,” Drew muttered, as Ted listened intently. “What’s he going to do?”

“We are one. No member of The Pen suffers alone. And so,” he said as he strode around the tables. “I have a challenge for you. All of you. Before the next meeting, you are going to make someone comment on your weight. Even if it’s already happened, you’re going to get another one. It doesn’t matter who: friend, family, coworker, even stranger. Your assignment is to make someone remark on how fat you’re getting.”

Antwon usually got a reasonably sized meal when he went to lunch at work. While he had a bigger appetite than most of his coworkers, he could still fit his lunch on a single cafeteria tray: the entree of the day, or two slices of pizza; a salad with plenty of dressing; and something from the dessert section. Of course, he could eat a lot more than that if he wanted to. And that day, he intended to use that fact to his advantage to satisfy Bam’s challenge..

As usual, he sat with the other members of the IT team, at a table close to the cafeteria’s cash register. Unlike usual, his tray was stacked with two layers of styrofoam containers, and even more individual servings of desserts and sides served on paper plates and wrapped in plastic wrap. “Hungry, huh?” Tina commented.

“Oh yeah,” Antwon boasted, a bit disappointed that just the volume of food he’d ordered wasn’t enough to get his coworkers to comment. But he knew what would.

After gingerly taking a container from the top layer, Antwon opened it to reveal the day’s entrée: hamburgers “made your way”. Antwon had piled his high with an extra patty and all the most decadent fixings, skipping lettuce and tomatoes and anything else that would make the burger look healthy. With the monstrous sandwich in hand, he took a bite. Then another, in half the time he would normally take when eating with his coworkers. Then another, just as quickly. He could have certainly eaten the burger faster, but then his coworkers might comment on his eating instead of his weight.

For the time being, he got neither. Some of the other IT techs glanced Antwon’s way as he ate, but they kept their conversation to the usual topics and not Antwon’s gorging or girth. Once he finished the burger, Antwon knew he would have to take it up a notch. Opening up his salad, he stirred it around with his plastic fork to distribute the ranch dressing. With the dressing adequately dispersed, he stuck a fork in it, then started shoveling it in like it could disappear at any moment.

That seemed to get the attention of Antwon’s coworkers. “You okay there, Antwon?” Ravi asked.

“Oh yeah,” Antwon forced out through a mouth full of salad, muffling his words. “Why do you ask?” he attempted to say, with most of the consonants lost to the mass of vegetables and greens.

“You’re joking, right?” Tina quipped. “Why are you eating like this is your first meal in weeks?”

“I like to eat,” Antwon insisted, giving the side of his ample gut some hearty pats in an attempt to get them to say something about it.

“We can tell,” Roger snarked. “But since when do you eat like this?”

“I guess I’m just hungry.” Antwon’s garbled reply made it out of his last mouthful of salad, before he dug into the first of two slices of pizza he’d bought.

“Well can you reel it in?” Mindy said shortly. “This isn’t a barnyard.”

“Do you want me to go hungry, Mindy?” Antwon asked in a faux pleading tone.

After shaking his head, Roger muttered, “It might do you some good.”

Antwon froze with the slice of pizza halfway up to his mouth. As far as he was concerned, that counted as a remark on his weight. A grin slowly widened across his face as he looked inward toward the center of the rectangular table. “I’m so sorry, everyone. I don’t know what came over me,” he stated slowly, imitating the way wealthy people talked in period dramas. “Please forgive my lapse in manners.”

Some of the other folks at the table rolled their eyes while others sighed. But soon the conversation was back to normal, except for Antwon’s lack of participation. He still had a lot of food left to eat, and he couldn’t spare much time to talk if he was going to finish it all while eating at a normal pace.

About 35 men of varying degrees of corpulence congregated in the basement that night, waiting for the meeting of The Pen to start. They murmured about the white plastic sheet covering something placed by the tables and chairs. It was about as tall as the men themselves, with some sort of straight beam holding up the sheet. This created the look of a lengthy tent, as the sheet flowed down on either side. Beyond that, no one could make out what lay underneath.

Curiosity abounded, but Bam had made it clear that no one was to peek inside until his reveal, assuring them it would be worth the wait. The members of The Pen who worked food service arrived with the evening’s feast and placed it on the tables, six tables for the six men who were able to contribute. They let the bags fall open as usual, revealing the feast of burgers, doughnuts, pizza, eggrolls, wings, and more.

But before anyone sat down, Bam cleared his throat. “Gentlemen. Before we start our feast tonight, I want to reveal this beauty I’ve been keeping from you.” As he spoke, he knocked his knuckles on the top of whatever was underneath the sheet, making a sharp sound revealing it to be made of wood. “Our little club has grown into quite the gathering of gluttons. While these feasts do a good job of keeping you fatties’ guts growing, I’ve been thinking about how we can be better. How we can help you get even fatter. And that… is why I’ve built this.”

Grabbing one end of the plastic sheet, Bam started pulling it swiftly away. He revealed a wooden frame with several dozen hoses running along it. About every five feet, one of the hoses would dangle down. The end of each was adorned by a brass attachment with a handle that could be squeezed.

Following the hoses to their source, the group saw a small scissor lift at the end of the structure. On the lift was a metal barrel as tall as Bam’s waist, and as wide around as the waists of the more rotund men there. As the plastic sheet settled behind him, Bam smacked the side of the barrel. “What’s in this barrel is something familiar to most of you: milk! Good old-fashioned whole milk. Does a body good, does a belly even better,” he said, causing a few to chuckle.

With eyebrows furrowed, Ted asked, “Where did you get that?”

But Bam didn’t seem to hear him. Instead he started turning the crank to raise the lift. “When this barrel is attached to this device, gravity will draw the milk into all the tubes. All you have to do is put one in your mouth and squeeze the handle, and you’ll be filled with all the milk you can drink. Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from,” he assured them as the barrel reached its final height. After lifting up one large tube at the end of the structure, Bam screwed it onto an opening at the bottom of the barrel.

The crowd of portly men murmured as they watched the milk flow through the clear hoses, down the length of the structure, before it reached the fauceted ends. The air inside bubbled its way back to the source as the tubes were filled. Once the flow stopped, Bam resumed his speech. “This stuff can turn a baby cow into a one-ton beast. Imagine what it’ll do for you.”

Quite a few of the men didn’t want to just imagine. Eight immediately waddled up to the tubes. The hoses hung off with enough slack that all the men, no matter their heights, were easily able to stick one in their mouths. Once they squeezed the handle on the end, their cheeks were filled with a pressure demanding they swallow immediately and continuously. Some let go of their handles, caught off guard by just how much milk there was to drink. Others rose to the challenge, chugging the milk with determination.

“Well, don’t just stand there and watch,” Bam said to the rest of the group. “Get drinking or get eating!”

Most of The Pen did as instructed, many of them ambling toward the tables to chow down, while two others took their place at the tubes. Ted walked toward the tables to do likewise, but something about the situation didn’t sit right with him. After grabbing a burger to snack on, he walked back up to Bam, who was watching proudly as his fatties guzzled the fattening drink. “Bam.”

“Ted,” Bam greeted in the same tone.

“I thought the point of this group was to be a gathering of people who liked to eat. Since when are we just making guys fat for the sake of making them fat?”

“Is that not what we’ve been doing all along?” Bam teased, poking Ted’s much expanded belly. He wasn’t entirely wrong, Ted admitted to himself as he looked down at his ample body. That long into his and Bam’s sessions and The Pen’s existence, he’d put on quite a lot of weight. On Ted’s more muscular frame, that weight manifested as a round, firm gut that stuck out with gusto and spread as wide as his shoulders. The firmness caused Bam’s finger to bounce back as he poked Ted, but Ted could still feel his belly jiggling.

The rest of Ted had grown appropriately, with stocky arms and sturdy legs to match. His face had rounded out from bearing a distinct double chin to a ring of fat that hung around his cheeks and below his jaw. His chest had taken on a robustness that came with both the taut muscle and the ample fat underneath. Yet his chest still bounced as Bam poked his belly. “The lardy doth protest too much, methinks.”

With a nervous exhalation, Ted raised his hand to push Bam’s finger out of the way. He wasn’t used to standing up to Bam, but he knew he’d regret saying nothing. “I’m fat because I like to eat. So does everyone else here. The point of this group is to give us a place to enjoy eating without judgement. Not just… make guys fat.”

“The Pen is a lot of things to a lot of people,” Bam asserted, crossing his arms confidently. “Look at all those fatasses sucking down that milk and tell me they’re not enjoying themselves,” Bam dared him, nodding his head toward the men drinking the milk from the tubes.

As Ted watched the ten men drinking the milk, he couldn’t deny that they looked like they were enjoying themselves. Their bodies seemed to vibrate as they chugged, with each swallow sending a ripple down the men’s bodies. Perhaps it was the force of the milk pouring into their mouths as they swallowed. Perhaps it was the rapid expansion as the milk hit their turgid stomachs, swelling them full of calories that would soon take on a more solid form.

The man standing closest to Ted–with that many attendees at The Pen’s meetings, he was having trouble keeping all the names straight–seemed especially swollen. He’d worn a shirt that night that couldn’t have possibly fit him when he walked into the building, but now his belly hung out even farther. Swollen with milk, his belly drooped a good foot out of his shirt. The garment couldn’t contain his gut as he chugged more and more, the milk forcing his belly to surge forth.

“Easy there, chubbo,” Bam called out to him. “That milk is only going to make you fatter if you can keep it down.”

The man let out a lengthy gasp as he drew the hose from his mouth. Looking over to Bam, he took a few panting breaths, before replying, “Don’t worry about me, boss.”

Looking back to Ted, Bam said quietly. “You heard the man.” After patting the side of Ted’s outspread belly, he continued, “Worry about yourself. Go put something in this belly of yours.”

Ted stood in defiance for a moment, staring back at Bam, but he found he had nothing to say. Instead he did as told, sitting at the table with the pizza to start his meal.

Marcello had considered himself proud of his size since long before he started attending the early meetings of The Pen. He had no qualms about eating as much as he liked whenever he liked, and joined the group mostly for company. He even enjoyed the challenge to get someone to comment on his weight gain. The fact that he’d outgrown his work uniform certainly made it easier, but he enjoyed egging on his boss while requesting a new size. And when Bam announced that the challenges were going to become a weekly thing, he smiled with excitement.

So why was he so nervous about this week’s challenge?

Marcello went through his closet to find some of his favorite shirts, the ones he just couldn’t part with no matter how small they were on him. A couple old band tee shirts, some of his more overtly sexual bear tees, and one he’d gotten signed while meeting Kesha backstage. He brought them out to his bedroom, arranged them in order of size, and tossed them on the bed.

The first one was a 4XL, which Marcello tossed over his head and tugged down. It wrapped around his body snugly, hugging his cures. Yet even before looking in the mirror, he could tell it was still too big for the parameters of that week’s challenge. Once his head was through the hole, his concerns were confirmed: though the shirt couldn’t go all the way down to cover his belly, it did cover his belly button, with about an inch of fabric to spare.

Marcello took off the shirt, sighing in frustration, and tossed it back on his bed. Going back to the pile, he pulled out a 3XL, and put that one on instead. This proved to be more difficult, giving him hope that this would be the one he could wear. But once he looked in the mirror, he saw the bottom hem of the shirt stretched over his belly button. It was still too loose.

Lifting his arms up, Marcello was able to pull the shirt up enough to expose his belly button, and then some. But Bam had been clear in his instructions: if the shirt can be pulled down to cover your belly button, it was too big. Marcello grumbled as he took the shirt off, tossing it on top of the 4XL.

There was another 3XL in the pile, this one more well worn than the first. Marcello took the shirt and pulled it over himself, pulling it down before letting it go and feeling it rise back up his body. With a tense inhalation, he looked in the mirror.

To his relief, the bottom of his belly button peeked out from underneath the shirt’s hem. He let out a sigh and smiled, happy to have found a shirt that met the parameters of Bam’s challenge.

The sides of his mouth fell when he realized he still had to complete the challenge: wear the shirt outside, in public, for at least an hour.

For a moment, Marcello considered finding some pants that he could pull up over his belly, to hide his exposed flab. He sighed when he remembered that he didn’t have any pants that fit him that loosely, as he was strictly a pants-under-the-belly guy. Grumbling, he went over to his dresser and pulled out some pants to put on. Just bending over to pull them up caused his shirt to ride up even farther. He instinctively pulled it down, only to find it would barely budge. With a sigh, he sucked in his gut to button his pants, before pocketing his phone, wallet, keys, and headphones.

About to head out the door, Marcello paused as he passed by his closet. Going inside, he pulled a short-sleeve button-down shirt off a hanger and put it on, leaving it unbuttoned. Walking back to his full-length mirror, he looked over his new outfit and raised his eyebrows. Against his expectations, the framing provided by the open button-down made his ill-fitting shirt seem more like a “look” than just sloppy dressing. With a nod, he managed a small smile, before heading for the front door again.

Marcello left his apartment building without running into anyone else. Once he was out the front door of the building, he pulled out his headphones and plugged them into his phone, ready to drown out any comments he might get as he went for a walk in his rural neighborhood. It was technically still a public space, he told himself, even if most of the people he’d pass by would be joggers too out of breath from running to comment on his outfit.

Or so he told himself. But midway through the second song of his walk, the voice of a runner passing by managed to pierce the shield of his music. He couldn’t quite make out the words, though “slob” seemed to be one of them, but the tone was unmistakably one of disdain. Marcello kept walking, but his mind stayed behind to linger over the words a while longer, racing as he tried to calm it.

The stares of other folks Marcello passed didn’t help matters. With each lingering pair of eyes, he found himself trying to pull his shirt down, in spite of his conscious awareness that such an attempt was futile. One person staring at his exposed gut wouldn’t have gotten to him; he was used to that much attention. But knowing his belly was hanging out of his shirt made him hyper aware of just how many people were staring. Every pair of eyes, it seemed, found its way to his gut.

Marcello usually didn’t mind that kind of curiosity, but that day, it was just too much. He turned around, forgoing the typical facade of pulling out his phone and pretending to read it. He just wanted to be back in his apartment.

But when Marcello got back to his building, he saw some flashing lights that didn’t bode well for his ability to go back inside. Those lights belonged to several fire trucks and police cars parked outside, one with a ladder extended to a second story window. Black coloration around the window made it clear what had happened, and gave Marcello some relief that his fifth floor unit was probably fine. A crowd of about a hundred people stood outside the building, looking more frustrated than concerned.

Walking to the crowd with a quicker pace, Marcello approached two folks in the back whom he’d seen in the laundry room before. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Kitchen fire is what they’re saying,” one said. “Sounds like they got it under control. A few apartments nearby received minimal damage, the rest are fine.”

With a sigh of relief, Marcello said, “So we’ll be able to go in soon, yeah?”

“Don’t be so sure,” the other told him. “They said it’ll take at least an hour to make sure it’s safe for all of us.”

Marcello’s eyelids rose as his smile flattened like it was being slowly driven over. “An hour?”

His fellow resident nodded silently, before her eyes navigated down to his belly. “You know your stomach is hanging out, right?”

“Yeah,” Marcello said. “This shirt must have shrunk in the wash,” he chuckled, trying to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation and feeling himself fail.

The two flattered him by nodding, before they looked back to the building, watching the commotion. Emergency responders occasionally emerged from the doors or went inside, while others talked with the building management outside. The scene seemed rather tranquil for one where the residents weren’t allowed back inside the building.

Marcello looked around at all the other residents standing outside. He’d already felt self-conscious enough while walking around and occasionally passing by people with his belly hanging out. If he stuck around, he was going to be seen by far more people than he would if he went for a walk. After a long exhalation, he turned away from the building, put his headphones back in, and left the parking lot to keep his stroll going.

Bam’s feeding tubes were growing more popular by the week. Of the 50-something men at The Pen that night, about half were guzzling milk the tubes, while the others were gorging themselves on the bounties of food piled on the table. Some men would start their night by filling their guts with milk, knowing the liquid would digest faster on an empty stomach. They would then waddle back to the tables, their sodden guts swaying as they struggled with the stroll. Others would wait until the end of the meal before taking their long swig, filling in the gaps in their stomach until it was entirely saturated.

It seemed nearly everyone was getting their fill at least once each night. Everyone except Ted.

Ted munched on a lukewarm slice of pepperoni pizza. He shared a table with four other men who devoured the pizza like it was ambrosia of the gods, not the leftovers of a corner pizza store after closing. There was a gusto in how they ate, shoving the pizza in until their cheeks bulged out like their abundant midsections, which pushed against the table as they leaned back in their chairs. At least one man’s face seemed to be disappearing behind his ever rising gut, which trembled with every belch and slap. Ted wished he were as enthusiastic as these men seemed to be. But truly, he missed going out to restaurants and gorging on good food.

Ted felt a hand pat his shoulder. Looking around, he saw it was Bam. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Ted nodded and stood up, leaving his half-eaten slice of pizza on the table before following Bam to a corner of the room. “What’s up?”

“Well, I’m just worried you don’t approve of my handiwork, is all.”


“The tubes!” Bam clarified enthusiastically, motioning toward the contraption that over two dozen men were now guzzling from.

“Why would you think I don’t approve?”

“Because you’ve yet to drink even a drop from it. Is it germs you’re worried about? You know, the spouts are self-sanitizing due to being made of brass,” Bam bragged.

“I don’t even like milk that much. Why would I drink it like that?”

“To make you fatter, of course,” Bam answered, patting the sides of Ted’s ample midsection.

It was a kind of attention Ted once enjoyed, but that night, he felt rather put upon. “I’m not going to chug a bunch of milk just to get fatter,” he insisted.

“Aww, not even after I went to all the trouble of mixing powdered milk into it and to make it even more rich? Even more fattening?” Bam added with a mischievous grin.

With an unamused expression, Ted turned back to return to his table, before feeling Bam’s hand on his shoulder again. “Hey, what’s gotten into you?”

“What’s gotten into you?” Bam blurted out as he turned back. “Since when are you so obsessed with just making us all fatter?”

Bam looked back at Ted with a blank expression, until a snicker gave way to a grin. “Did you really not see that that’s where this whole thing was headed?” Strolling slowly up to Ted, Bam took his place beside Ted as they gazed upon the crowd of men plumping themselves up. “It’s a beautiful sight. Men freed from the shackles of a limiting culture, one that wants to keep them small enough to fit in a box. If they keep eating like this, they’re going to blow that box to pieces from the inside. Our free-range pigs.”

Our free-range pigs?” Ted repeated. “You’re going to make me responsible for this when The Pen was your idea?”

“Ted,” Bam said pleadingly. “Look at what we built. How can you renounce something so grand?”

Ted wanted to answer, “Like this,” but even that felt like giving Bam more of an answer than he deserved. After staring at him a while longer, he turned to make his way back. He walked in the general direction of the table where he’d sat, though he wasn’t sure if he’d sit back down, or just keep walking.

After a few seconds of standing in place, Bam strode past Ted and back to the group. “Listen up, pigs. I’m instituting a new rule. Before any of you hogs leave, you must drink from the tubes, and fill your bellies until they feel like they’ll burst. We’re going to make sure you end the night stuffed with as many calories as you can hold. I want your guts so saturated with milk that you leave feeling like a cow. I want you to waddle out that door. If you walk out, you can stay out.”

The men cheered their approval for Bam’s new rule, before returning to their respective food or drink. Bam maintained eye contact with Ted, who’d made his way past the table and over to the wall to make a quiet exit. He momentarily looked back at Bam, who stared back at him resolutely, before turning to look ahead as he walked out.

Ted sat quietly at his local burger joint, Barney’s, on a Thursday evening. He told himself those Thursday night meals were to celebrate the work week being almost over. But as he ate his double decker burger with extra fries, he couldn’t help but wish Bam was there to tell him what a good job he was doing. Eating alone just wasn’t the same as being told how much he was eating, and how fat he was going to become. Not that it particularly needed to be pointed out. But even with two months between him and the night he walked out of The Pen, he found himself missing the group and their dedication to gluttony.

An impressively rotund man waddled through the doorway, making most of the customers stare at him. Ted stared as well, as he thought the man looked familiar, though he couldn’t place where he’d seen him before. Though the man couldn’t move very fast, he had a lumbering confidence that left Ted wondering if he’d seen him at The Pen. He seemed the type, as he waddled up to the back of the line before wiping the sweat off his forehead with his hand. Though standing in place, he continued breathing heavily as he waited for his turn.

Ted couldn’t make out what the gargantuan man said as he placed his order. With the man facing away from him, his words were barely intelligible. What he could make out was the cashier asking, “So, what’s all this for?”

After letting out a laugh louder than any word he’d spoken, the man said more discernibly, “Look at me, sweetheart,” with several loud thumps on the side of his mountainous gut. “What do you think it’s for?”

Definitely a member of The Pen, Ted thought, his eyes returning to his food. Though he’d been one of the group’s original members, the growth of The Pen had left him feeling increasingly anonymous. If he’d still been a prominent member, he might have felt awkward about seeing a member of The Pen in public. Instead, he munched on another fry, looking down at his meal as he did, comfortably inconspicuous.

What Ted didn’t expect was for the man to lay his overloaded tray onto Ted’s table and address him with a familiar tone. “Not bad, huh?”

Looking up, Ted saw the man smiling at him with a familiarity that Ted didn’t share. Not wanting to be rude, Ted agreed, “It’s an impressive order.”

“Right? I was worried the cashier wouldn’t say anything. Thought she might be like, of course this fatty is ordering all this food for himself. I guess I forgot that, outside The Pen, this is an insane amount of food for anyone.”

Ted nodded, hoping the man would go away if he acted polite but uninterested. To his dismay, the man sat down opposite of him, pulling a chair far away from the table before scooting it in. “Don’t worry, though. I haven’t forgotten the other part of the challenge. I’ll be eating all of this.”

With another uninterested nod, Ted said, “Don’t let me distract you.”

“Oh you won’t,” the man enthused, shoving one of about eight burgers into his mouth.

Things were quiet at the table, aside from the sound of the man’s loud chewing. In spite of keeping his mouth closed, an impressive feat with the size of the bites he was taking, the man’s greedy gobbling was plenty loud enough to soundtrack their meal. Ted was used to the sound, having spent so many nights at The Pen, surrounded by men filling themselves. He didn’t precisely miss it, but there was still something homey about sitting at a table with someone being so unashamedly gluttonous.

After finishing the last of his fries, Ted wiped his fingers on his napkin one last time before saying, “Well, that’s it for me. Uh, good luck.”

“Thank you, sir,” the man replied, catching Ted off guard. Ted paused in surprise, giving the man a window to continue, “You know, I know we’re not supposed to talk about it…” It took the man a moment longer to finish his thought, leaving Ted wishing he could just go. “But we miss seeing you at The Pen.”

Not supposed to talk about it? Bam’s so petty that he won’t even let them talk about me? Ted closed his eyes for a moment, wishing he could be surprised by the news. But with the direction Bam had taken The Pen in, he supposed anything was possible. “Yeah, I miss it too,” he said, trying to be civil.

“Why did you leave, sir?” the man asked, before his eyelids and eyebrows rose and he covered his mouth with a hand speckled with crumbs.

“I just… didn’t feel very welcome.”

“You’re not mad at me for asking?”

“Why would I be?” Ted chuckled. The question was funny to Ted, but the man still seemed tense.

“Well… okay,” he relented. “Marcello is doing a great job running The Pen, by the way.”

“Marcello’s in charge now?”

“Did you mean to put someone else in charge?”

With that question, Ted had no idea what to think. Bam was prohibiting The Pen members from talking about him, but also claiming to be consulting Ted for input on leadership decisions? Ted could hardly remember the last time Bam had asked for his input on anything, let alone who to leave in charge of The Pen.

Ted has a lot of questions, but his life had been remarkably simpler once Bam was no longer a part of it. The last thing he wanted to do was get involved again. “Marcello is a good choice to lead the group. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

“Okay,” the man replied, sounding unsatisfied by Ted’s answer, but cautious about prying further. After nibbling on his burger a while longer, he added, “You look great, sir. Really rotund.”

Ted smiled as he sat back in his seat, realizing he’d been hunched over the whole time. “Well, what can I say?” he asked, patting the sides of his rotund midsection. His belly was hefty enough to push his legs apart as he sat. If he were to press his thighs together, they would be overshadowed by the width of his gut. It was like a backpack on his lap, taking up space and weighing him down, yet also providing a sense of security. It grounded him, in more ways than one, and was a souvenir he didn’t mind keeping from his time in The Pen. “I had some good encouragement.”

“Who could possibly encourage someone as astoundingly gluttonous as you?” the man asked, his eyes lighting up. “I’d imagine all someone could do is provide the food and let you do the rest.”

“Well…” Ted let out a sigh as he remembered those initial feeding sessions with Bam, before The Pen grew out of control. “Someone I don’t talk to anymore.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It happens. Sometimes you just grow in different directions.”

“Well, you grew in some pretty amazing directions, considering The Pen came from it.”

Ted let his head tilt forward as he let out a lengthy exhalation. “At one point, sure. I just… feel like it and I grew in different directions too.”

“How? You were the one bringing in the tubes, issuing challenges, telling everyone they had to waddle out–“

The confused look on Ted’s face seemed to cause the man to pause, before he covered his mouth with one of his meaty hands. “I shouldn’t have said that, should I?”

“Wha–what are you talking about?”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” the man muttered again as he scarfed down what remained of his meal.

“What? No, say it again.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” the man mumbled through a mouth full of French fries. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why? Why shouldn’t you have said that?”

“Is this a test?” he asked meekly.

“No, this isn’t a test,” Ted answered in growing frustration.

With a nervous rattle, the man stammered, “Marcello told us that you said we must never talk about everything you did before you left.” As Ted’s confusion grew, the man continued, “Did… did you not tell him that, sir?”

“Like hell I did,” Ted fumed. Bam must have told Marcello to tell the rest of the group that, he concluded. Furious that Bam would put words in his mouth like that, Ted got up from the table, taking his tray with him. “I’ll see you Friday night.”

As Ted turned down the alleyway, he wondered if those old instructions would still get him into the basement. Would the door be locked now? Had Bam found another way for everyone to get inside, one he’d not told Ted about after Ted walked out? Ted didn’t put it past him, after everything he’d already pulled. But as he approached the back of the building, he saw that the door was still propped open. With a quiet sigh of relief, he opened the door, pulling it noticeably farther than he used to so he could get all his new bulk in.

As Ted descended the stairs, he could hear a commotion coming from the basement. There had always been excited chatter before the meetings, but something about the hubbub that night seemed uncanny. Slowly, he approached the door and crept around the corner.

Ted’s eyes went wide as he beheld a crowd of at least 300 fat guys sitting or standing around, their rotund faces bright with excitement. Those faces lit up when they noticed he’d walked into the room.

“It’s him!” a few shouted, starting a slow-moving stampede in Ted’s direction.

“You’re back!”

“It’s true!”

“You’re here!”

The fear of being mobbed by several dozen tons of men subsided as the men stopped just short of running Ted over. Yet the crowd still undulated like turbulent waters, as men pushed ahead through the sea of blubber to try to get to the front. Backed up against a wall, Ted was left with few options if one of them stumbled forward and crushed him.

“You’re really back!”

“It’s so good to see you!”

“You’ve gotten huge!”

The guts and the men who had them all bounced around like rubber balls in an earthquake. Some men tried to use their arms to push one another aside, but men of such girth could only be moved by a comparable mass. Only those men who were willing to belly their way through the crowd had a chance of getting to the front, before they were pushed aside as well.

“I can’t believe it!”

“You must have been eating tons!”

“The king returns!”

After taking a deep breath to shout over the noise, Ted exclaimed, “Where’s Bam?!”

“He’s here!” the men shouted excitedly over each other

“He’s back!”

“He’s with us once again!”

Well that’s not helpful, Ted thought with a loud sigh. Impatiently, he pushed himself off the wall and forced his way through the crowd. The smaller men there–smaller compared to the other members, at least–were relatively easy to push aside. The larger men served as more of an obstacle, but Ted was able to make his way around them, as he tried to escape the sea of flab.

As he fell out of the edge of the crowd, Ted turned around, expecting to see them all following him. But it seemed the members on the edge didn’t recognize him, and he had a moment to make himself scarce. He made his way to the end of the tubes where the keg was connected, knowing Bam would likely be standing next to it now that he’d made it a requirement.

But instead Ted found Marcello standing in that spot. At least, he thought it was Marcello. “Welcome back, sir.”

“Marcello? Jesus, you’re huge.”

“Thank you, sir,” Marcello beamed. With a chuckle, he continued, “I’d bow, but I’m not sure I’d be able to stand back up.” As fat as he was, he might have been correct. That he was still standing was impressive in its own right.

Marcello was nearly twice as wide as Ted, himself wide enough to hold his own against much of The Pen. Yet next to Marcello, Ted’s 364 pound frame (as of his latest trip to the gym) looked like a starter belly. Like a newcomer to The Pen.

Marcello’s chest was wide enough to push his arms up and away, leaving them resting on pillows of fat that extended past his elbows. His belly was bigger than the metal keg that was hooked up to the tubes. It was bigger than a bean bag chair, and firmer too. It pushed out so far that the belly button indent in his shirt hung lower than his hands would have been able to reach. His double chin was like a pool noodle wrapped around his jaw. It was so plump that it looked like it was spilling away from his neck, clamoring for more room. Between his double chin, the fat spilling out from the sides of his chest, and his belly spilling out over his pants, he looked like his flab was desperately looking for new places to swell out.

Just as impressively wide was the smile with which Marcello greeted Ted. “I wish I’d known you were coming back. I could have prepared a proper welcome.”

“That’s… that’s fine,” Ted said shortly as he tried to catch his breath from pushing through the crowd. “Why are you telling everyone that I said to not talk about me?”

“I never said that, sir. Just that they weren’t to talk about the things you did before leaving. Just as you asked.”

“When did I ask that?” Ted inquired with increasing frustration, along with a dash of sarcasm

“In the letter you sent after you left, sir.”

“Wha–who sends a letter when we all have email?”

“You did, sir. You said it was more secure than a text or email.”

“Alright, stop, stop calling me sir,” Ted stammered. “Just call me my name, please.”

“As you wish, Bam. You said it would be harder to track because everything’s digital these days.”

Before Ted could inquire further, he froze mid-breath and looked at Marcello with his mouth still open. “What did you call me?”

“Would you prefer Mr. Arkwright?”

“No, no, what… what did you just call me?”

“Your name, Sir–I mean, Bam, just like you asked.”

“Wha–What kind of game is Bam having you play with me now.”

“Is this a test, si–is this a–”

“No! Why does everyone think I’m trying to test them? I’m just trying to figure out where Bam is.”

“Is that a philosophical question? You’re here, si–“

“Do you have the letter?”

“The what?”

“The letter I sent you!” Ted exclaimed. “Supposedly.”

“Well, not on me. But I have a scan of it on my phone, so I can refer back to the rules you laid out.”

“Let me see.”

With some hesitation, Marcello pulled out his phone and swiped through. After some time, he handed it to Ted, needing to extend his arm entirely just to reach past his astounding gut.

After zooming in, Ted skimmed over the handwriting. It looked like his own, just a bit neater, more intentional. It even had the extensions of the tail of the lowercase e, clearly drawn in a separate stroke from the original letter, to prevent it from being mistaken for an o. The t’s were crossed at a slant, and the m’s looked like w’s.

But Ted had no memory of writing it. Yet there, in his handwriting, was exactly what Marcello claimed he’d written. “What the hell?” he muttered.

“Something wrong? Did you write something incorrectly?”

Ted could scarcely begin to answer just how much was wrong. After handing back Marcello’s phone, he backed up slowly, hand on his forehead, trying to comprehend what was happening.

“Are you okay, si–you don’t look so good.”

“I’m… no, no I’m not okay,” Ted blabbered. “What the hell is happening?”

“Maybe you should sit down,” Marcello offered. With a deep inhalation, he swung his arms to shuffle his feet closer to a table. His steps were about as short as his feet themselves, his arms swinging more than his legs did, to try to give himself some forward momentum.

“I’ll, I’ll get it,” Ted said, stumbling over to the nearest table. After pulling a chair out, he crashed onto it, face in his hand.

“Sir, are you okay?”


“Sir, what’s wrong?”

“Give him space,” Marcello ordered before the crowd could mob Ted again. Still making his slow, steady journey, he continued, “And don’t call him “Sir.” He doesn’t like it.”

The men kept their distance, as Marcello asked, but Ted still felt smothered by the gaze of hundreds of men who seemed to hang on his every word. “Maybe some food would help?”

“Good idea. Food always helps,” Marcello added, breathing heavily as he continued approaching Ted. “What would you like, si–Bam.”

“Food doesn’t always help,” Ted muttered, face still in his hand.


“Food doesn’t always help!” he screamed, his words echoing through the basement, rippling through the silence. “It was never supposed to come to this. This… cult, of gluttony for its own sake, of slavish adherence to what one man wants you to do. Do you even like eating anymore?” he shouted. “Do you like what you do here?”

The men stared at Ted with mouths agape, even the ones who could breathe adequately through their noses. Some looked at each other with glances of concern. No one seemed to have an answer for him.

“Go home. Or go out somewhere. Make something you like, or order something good. Eat something delicious. Actually delicious. Not this leftover garbage.”

Ted felt a warm, soft hand grab onto his wrist. Looking back, he saw Marcello, who had finally reached the table where Ted sat. “Bam,” he panted, “I wish it hadn’t come to this.”

“Me neither,” Ted said.

“But your instructions were clear.”

Soon several other men separated from the crowd. They weren’t quite as fat as the other men there, and had more muscle definition to speak of. They soon used that muscle to grab Ted by the arms and hoist him out of the chair. “Hey, what are you doing?”

“Exactly what you told us to do if you ever tried to undermine The Pen: hook you up to the tubes and keep the heavy cream coming until you’re the fattest one here.”

“What? No, stop, let me go!” But the men didn’t listen, still dragging Ted toward the tubes. “I order you, as your leader, Bam Arkwright, to let me go! Listen to me!”

“He said he’d say that,” Marcello told the men. “And not to listen.”

“Dammit,” Ted exclaimed, struggling against the men’s grasp as they brought him closer to the tubes.

The tubes had been extended since Ted had last attended the meetings, with enough nozzles for the mandatory fattening of hundreds of men. A much larger keg was hooked up at the end, this one as tall as a person, and nearly as wide as it was tall

With eyes opened extra wide, Ted pushed his feet against the ground beneath him, bringing them forward enough that he could swing his right leg back against one of his captors. His foot connected with the man’s groin, weakening his grip enough that Ted could pull his right arm free. With a punch in the nose, one of the captors to his left was taken care of, allowing him to pull his other arm away from the last one.

Ted ran parallel to the tubes to make his way away from the crowd. It took him a while to get moving, but his momentum carried him across the room with impressive speed. An exit sign sticking out in the darkness at the end of the basement caught his eye, and he ran as fast as his tree trunk legs could carry him.

“Stop him! Get him!” Marcello shouted. The other men shouted at Ted to stop as well, while some echoed the command of “Get him!” As Ted ran, he could hear the shouts echoing more loudly. The cavernous cacophony bounced off the basement walls, like the roar of a predator on the hunt. A bellowing, gargantuan beast chasing after him with a stride longer than the tubes themselves.

Upon reaching the exit, Ted looked back and saw that, in fact, the men’s shouts were echoing more because they were farther away. Panting and out of breath, the men of The Pen struggled to catch up to him. Even his muscular captors were scarcely closer to him than anyone else in the crowd.

Ted pushed on the crash bars of the doors, not wanting to give his good fortune time to run out, and stumbled outside. A set of concrete stairs adjacent to the building led to the sidewalk above. After hurrying up the steps and over the low-hanging “No Trespassing” sign, he turned around and ran down the sidewalk.

Not many cars drove down the streets as Ted tried to put as much distance between The Pen and himself as possible. When he was confident he wasn’t being followed, he slowed to a brisk walk. Struggling to catch his breath, he kept moving, not sure where he was going. He passed by unfamiliar businesses, apartment buildings, and even a small park he didn’t know was in the city. All he knew was that he couldn’t stop.

“You can stop,” a familiar voice told him. Turning around, Ted saw Bam right behind him, ambling along with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face. “Those days in the gym have served you well. I figured you’d just get lazy like everyone else, but you stuck with it, and had the stamina to outrun all my other hogs.” Bam gave Ted a slow clap, his hands colliding limply to make a flaccid sound. “Bravo.”

“You,” Ted panted. “Why does everyone think I’m you?”

“You haven’t figured that out yet, huh?” Bam asked, walking in a slow circle about five feet away from Ted. “I guess they did a good enough job keeping it under wraps, then. It would be a shame to undo all their efforts. Even if that pig at Barney’s couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”

“How do you know about that? You weren’t even there.”

“Oh, but I was,” Bam said as he stopped in place, turning to look at Ted with a grin.

“Where?” Ted asked incredulously.

“The same place I’ve been since you left The Pen. The same place I’ve been since before The Pen. The same place I’ve been since you and I first ‘met’,” Bam answered, sprucing up his answer with finger quotes, before one of those fingers pointed at Ted’s face. “Right there, in that little head of yours.”

“Be serious.”

“Ah, I knew you wouldn’t believe me. But take a look at that bench over there,” he said, pointing toward a bench along the park’s walkway.

Ted sighed as his eyes slid over to the bench. Yet there, sitting casually on it, was Bam, who gave him a wave. Darting his gaze back to where Bam was before, he saw Bam again, who raised his eyebrows. Looking back to the bench, Bam was now lying down on it, his hands clasped as he twiddled his thumbs. “You know, I can do this all day. Benefits of being a figment of your imagination and all. But we have more important things to do.”


Hopping up from the bench, Bam approached Ted with a more serious expression. “Like talking about why you,” he exclaimed, pushing a finger into Ted’s chest, “tried to undo all the work we did together.”


“The Pen! For god’s sake, The Pen! You tried to shut the whole thing down tonight, after all the time and effort we put into building it.”

“‘We’? Since when was this a ‘we’ idea? The tubes, the new rules, taking it out of restaurants and into the basement, that was you!”

“You still don’t get it,” Bam muttered. “I laid it all out for you like a Thanksgiving feast, and you still don’t get it.” Grabbing Ted’s cheeks, Bam looked directly into his eyes and shouted, “We’re the same person! I’m you! You’re me! You’re Bam Arkwright! That night when Drew asked if he could be next, he saw you stuffing yourself! Telling yourself how fat you are. When I spoke at The Pen meetings, that was you talking! And when I asked how you could renounce something so grand, I was asking how you could renounce what you built!”

“I… what?”

“So many ‘what’s with this guy,” Bam muttered. “And that’s why, when you left The Pen, I had to leave Marcello in charge. If you weren’t there, then I wouldn’t be either, and they’d be left without a leader. I admit, it hurt to not watch my hogs grow. But knowing they were still growing without me was better than knowing The Pen would crumble into nothingness.”

“That… how is that possible? How did you build the tubes? How did you send that letter?”

“Oh I found my time. You’re really absentminded, you know? While you thought you were stuffing your face at The Pen meetings, I was toiling away, putting together the tubes in the far end of the basement. When you thought you were writing checks for doctors’ bills, I wrote the letter to Marcello and slipped it in among your other envelopes that had to go out. A bit of dated technology, yes, but it would leave no trace in your Sent folder.”

“Harder to track,” Ted said, repeating Marcello’s words about the letter.

“Bingo. Incidentally, I did indeed tell them to fatten you up if you tried to undermine The Pen. But I also told them that if you escape the basement, they’re to leave you alone, unless you return again. So, you can actually stop.”

“But… why?”

With a smirk, Bam said, “I wanted to give myself a chance to change your mind. Hard to do that when everyone is hounding you and trying to hook you up to the tubes.”

“No, no, why… Why are you? Why do you exist?”

“You’re the one who came up with an imaginary friend,” Bam chuckled. “Why don’t you ask yourself that question?”

Shaking his head, Ted turned away from Bam to walk into the park and away from all this nonsense, only to see Bam in front of him again. “You can’t keep running,” he said. “You can’t keep denying this, not after everything we’ve done together. But I can understand why you want to. Why, denial is the very reason why I’m even here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Think about it, fat boy. Where did we first meet?”


“And how did I break the ice?”

“You bought me food and convinced me to give up my diet.”

“Exactly,” Bam said, sauntering around Ted as Ted spun in place to keep up. “You wanted to drop that diet, though. You wanted to embrace a life of hedonism and gluttony, but you weren’t ready to make that choice. That,” he exclaimed before turning to face Ted, “is why you needed me.”

“‘Needed’ you? For what?”

“To take the credit,” Bam answered as he turned to walk around Ted again. “Or the blame, depending on how you see it. You weren’t ready to commit to gaining weight, to take on that responsibility. But if you could credit someone else for your gains, for ‘convincing’ you to give up on your diet, then you wouldn’t have to.”

“So I made up a whole new person just for that?”

“Repression is a funny thing, my friend. And you repressed your urges so hard that you created an alter ego capable not only of fattening you up, but fattening up hundreds of other men as well, even when he couldn’t be there to do it himself. You should be proud,” he concluded with a grin.

“Proud? Of making them eat garbage? Of forcing them to chug down milk and heavy cream until it hurts?”

“You’re so negative. We gave them freedom! We released them from the restrictive bonds of a culture that tried to squeeze them into a box!”

“No,” Ted snarled, stomping up to Bam. “You took them out of one set of chains and put them in another.” Once their midsections collided, Bam shuffled back. His eyes grew wide as he regained his balance. Ted pushed him again, making him stumble back farther.

“It was all because of you,” Bam asserted. “It was what you wanted. I’m your desires brought to life.”

“You’re a fantasy,” Ted shouted back, pushing Bam farther along. The park’s central pond was coming closer, and Bam looked back at it with eyes open wide. “A fantasy I let go too far.”

“But now you’re living your fantasy! Don’t you want to keep that?” Bam pleaded as he tried to push back against Ted’s advancing bulk, to no avail.

“For the past few months, I’ve been doing it all just fine without you.”

The two had reached the edge of the pond, where the concrete walkway ended and the reeds began. Bam had barely enough room to stand; one more step and he’d fall in. After shaking his arms to catch his balance, he grabbed onto Ted’s shoulders to catch himself. “Ted, you can’t just let the men of The Pen down like that. After the new life we gave them.”

“You really think you gave them a new life? You gave them the life you wanted for them. Maybe now they can decide what they want for themselves.”

“And what about you? You need me! That’s why you made me! You really think you can be a happy fatty without me?”

With a deep inhalation, Ted pushed his pelvis backward, before thrusting his gut into Bam. The force was enough to tear Bam’s hands off of Ted’s shoulders and propel him into the pond. Sinking like a stone, Bam disappeared beneath the surface. Though the pond couldn’t have been more than a few feet deep, it seemed he’d vanished. The reeds swayed gently, as if nothing more than a puff of wind had passed them by.

“I sure can.”

Nary a ripple disturbed the water, allowing Ted to see his own reflection where Bam had been only seconds before. Ted looked at the fat man that now looked back at him, his belly wider than his shoulders, and round like a globe. He exhaled as he turned toward a nearby bench, hobbling over to take a well-deserved seat.

The breeze was cool against Ted’s skin. The metal bench was inhospitably hard, but he had his soft rear end and back rolls to keep him comfortable. Looking up at the night sky, he saw few stars, as most of them were hidden by the city lights. His gaze came to rest on the moon, shining brighter than any of the dim lamps around him. It was full.

Ted wasn’t sure how long he sat there, catching his breath after everything that had just happened. Though his struggle with Bam was ostensibly over, processing everything that had happened would undoubtedly take a lot longer. How long, he wasn’t sure of. All that was certain was that he spent enough time sitting on the bench that someone with a familiar voice found him in the park that night. “Ted?”

Looking up, Ted saw Mario standing about ten paces down the path, looking at him concernedly.

“What did you call me?”

“Ted. That… is your name, right?”

“Yes,” Ted blurted out with a chuckle. “Sorry. It’s, uh, it’s been a weird night.”

“Are you… okay?” Mario asked timidly.

“I’ve been better.” Looking down at the ground again before his eyes shifted to the lake, Ted continued, “But I’ve also been a lot worse.”

“Is that a no or a yes?”

Looking back to Mario, Ted’s mouth slowly grew into a modest smile. “Yes. I think so.”

With pursed lips, Mario nodded, his head hanging down as his eyes darted to the side. “So… what brings you out here.”


“I didn’t know you jogged.”

“I don’t.”

“Oh.” Mario looked around a while longer, his hands fiddling behind his back. “Well… what are you up to for the rest of the night?”

“Trying to find my way home, I guess,” Ted answered, staring ahead blankly. After a moment, his eyebrows rose, and he looked back to Mario. “Unless you had other ideas?”

“Well… there’s this 24-hour doughnut place near here that I like a lot. Maybe we could grab coffee.”

After a moment, Ted’s flat mouth grew into a smile. “I think it’s a bit late for coffee. But I’m always up for doughnuts.”

With a smile of his own, Mario extended his hand. Ted took it and pulled himself up, nearly pulling Mario down before he realized he’d have to do most of the heavy lifting himself. With his other arm, he pushed himself off the bench until he was upright. He held onto Mario’s hand a second or two before letting it go.

Meanwhile, Mario’s eyes were locked on Ted’s gargantuan gut. He looked up bashfully, but when Ted stared back with a smile, Mario told him, “You’re getting pretty heavy, big guy.”

“Thank you. I know.” With a smirk, Ted raised his arms above his head, as if he was stretching, and pulled his shirt up enough to reveal his gut.

With raised eyebrows and eyelids, Mario’s eyes were locked on Ted’s exposed gut. Grinning even more widely, he looked back up at Ted and said, “First dozen’s on me.”

Author’s note: If you got this far and still don’t know what movie this story is based on, it’s Fight Club.

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