Of Feathers and Fur
An essay on the nature of beauty and truth, and the lesson that it all depends…
Like so many of these things, it began in bed. Diffuse, bloated moonlight shone mellowly through the open windows and over the rumpled covers and the occupants. It was sometime past one in the morning, and it had been a fun night.
“You should grow your hair.”
Cobalt Falling Feather chose not to answer this for a while. She lay with her lower body beneath the covers, facing the windows of her apartment, the moonlight illuminating what was visible of her slender, compact frame with its enchanting tawny fur. Then she languorously glanced over at the male she shared the bed with tonight (she’d forgotten his name for the second, but it didn’t bother her). He was smiling in that mildly annoying proprietary way that males often do when they’re taken to bed, as though they’d achieved something. She looked back into the moonlight.
“So you want a stereotype, then?”
“Uhh?” She heard the cute bewilderment in his voice, and smiled. This wasn’t the way pillow-talk was meant to go. But this was the fifth of his type she’d tried in three months (third and fourth time both proving far from lucky), and as a set they were beginning to bore her. He’d only been with her a night or three, though they’d met before that and knew at least something about each other. As starts went, it was quite good.
“Why should I have longer hair?” He grunted.
“Because it’d look better on you, that’s why. I think you’d look more attractive.” He took her silence as a sign to run his fingers through her artfully styled (if now disarrayed) mane. She let him, for now.
“You want me to look like a good Arocho girl in the big bad city, then? A catch that you can show off to your compadrés?”
“I know you’re not a good girl.”
That throaty, growly chuckle was partly what had attracted her in the first place. Now she wondered why. She smiled scornfully, summoning up every megawatt of her proud Native heritage and broadcasting it through her back.
“You Ímigré mongrels are all alike.”
“Hey!” He’d finally cottoned on that things weren’t as they should be. “You can’t talk. You want a stereotype, too, I think.”
Most would simply have spluttered with incoherent rage, she gave him that. Feather rolled expertly to face him, flexing lithely until she straddled the dog’s upper legs, looking down at him past his rock-solid abdominal muscles, chest and bulging shoulders. He was an amateur athlete of some kind, (but she forgot the details of that, too). He lay on the bed, a slightly angry look on his muzzle, though it faltered uncertainly as he saw her amusement, in case this was some little game of hers. The wolf cocked her elegantly proportioned head slightly, her startlingly deep blue eyes shining in the dark. A few highlighted locks trailed past her ears.
“I think not.”
“Prove it. You just want me for my muscles.” He was smiling again now, convinced this was some kind of tease. The first thing that came into her head was unusual, but she went with it.
“Ok, then, hound, I will prove it. I’ll grow my hair long… if you put on weight.”
“Huh?” he grunted again. Then a slow, smug grin slid across his muzzle. Flexing one powerful and hairy bicep, he ran his hand across it and the shoulder. “Well sure, if you want to see me bigger, hon, I’ll lift heavier loads for ya. Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Not that kind of weight, you prat.” She slapped her palm onto his flat, ridged stomach, making him yelp slightly. He couldn’t complain- she’d just hurt her hand. “You want me to be your typical little trophy squaw, mutt, you’ve got to lose that precious physique of yours.”
That went down about as well as could be expected. His smile vanished fast as it sank in. He swore.
“It’s a crazy world. Deal with it. In the meantime…” she stepped off him and resumed her earlier position, taking all the covers with her, “…get out of my bed.”
Eyes shut, she heard another sleepily mumbled oath, then Isaac (that was his name, she remembered now) swung himself out of bed and stomped to the door, slamming it behind him as he went towards the spare room.
Feather cuddled down and went to sleep with nary a second thought.
* * *
And there it would have ended (they’d both chosen to forget in the morning), if he hadn’t brought it up again at dinner a couple of nights later (they were still together and not bored of one another yet, which Feather took to be a relatively promising sign). They’d ordered a takeaway- the immigrant kind of junk-food that Isaac seemed to love but she had little taste for, big hunks of meat in a chemical sauce that definitely wasn’t cooked over a real wood-flame, with bread, soggy corn, and oodles of ketchup (yeurchh!). They were both sitting around the table in her small and stylish kitchen.
“I really think you’d look great with long hair, babe.” he said again. (It was a term she’d always, always hated, but he hadn’t learned that yet. He would). Feather put down the fork she’d been toying with.
“Well I don’t. What is it with you and long hair?”
“I just have a thing for long hair on beautiful females, I guess.”
He grinned oafishly at her, tongue hanging out of the side of his blunt muzzle. Its white fur was smeared with sticky red sauce, clashing with the generally dark, dark brown of the rest of his face. He wore a shirt with the top three buttons undone to emphasise its tight fit around his barrel-like chest, incidentally exposing the horizontal streak of white across his pectorals. Sauce had splashed there, too. Somehow his whole attitude suddenly contrived to annoy her. Feather sat back and crossed her legs, resuming her previous stance.
“You know my price.”
It took the ripped dog a while to work out what she meant, but eventually the penny dropped. It did so whilst he had a mouthful, and he spluttered hilariously. His scowl was prize-winning.
“C’mon. Get serious,” he growled, floppy ears tilting back. She arched a disdainful eyebrow.
“I am serious. That’s the deal: me - long hair, you – bigger.” She illustrated by pointing a digit at his stomach. The dare seemed appropriate, and there was no way in hell she was backing down now. “I guess we’ll find out what means more to you.”
He sat back from the table too, glowering at her.
“You’re crazy.” he repeated the complaint.
“I’m crazy,” Feather agreed with a smile that her long-standing friends would have run a mile from, “But I’m ruthlessly determined crazy.”
“And you should let it go back to being dark.”
“Oh, you want really traditional, huh?”
Leaning across the table, she emptied the remains of the takeaway (there was quite a bit) onto his cleared plate. She gave him a challenging look.
“Going to put your ego where your mouth is, puppy-dog?”
Isaac glared at her, practically raising sparks in the cross-fire. Neither moved. Then, with a kind of muttered snarl, he hitched his chair forwards, picked up his fork and began shovelling, still eyeballing her defiantly. She folded her arms and watched him put away pretty much a whole second meal. His stomach capacity impressed, if nothing else.
Isaac had no idea who he was dealing with.
* * *
Feather woke up early and remembered the decision that she’d taken whilst she’d slept. With the pale blue early morning light gently washing through the room, she noiselessly rolled out of bed, got dressed and went out, with Isaac still slumbering like a log.
When she returned a couple of hours later, he was only just getting up. He obviously heard her return, and stumbled blearily into the kitchen unshowered, clad in just a pair of y-fronts (she admitted that he could certainly get away with them). He certainly made a noise about it.
“Arg. D’you have any antacid in this place? I’ve got the worst indigestYEARGHH!”
The scream wasn’t from abdominal pain. He staggered backwards a few steps, eyes bulging.
“Wh… wh… what happened?! Your hair!”
Feather glanced in the wall-mirror. The hair-dresser had done her best, but given the instructions to cut a mane back until you hit natural roots, whatever’s done is going to look drastic. She was surprised how much larger her ears looked compared to before. She fingered the scant inches she had left. Isaac still looked thunderstruck. It was such a cute expression on him. She smiled sweetly.
“Well, if you want me to grow my hair long I might as well start from the very beginning. I didn’t want blonde ends forever. Besides, now you’ll be able to see whether I’m keeping my side of the bargain.”
“Buh… buh… buh…!”
She strolled over to him, and pulled his bare arm around her coyly. He smelt like a bed- something not amazingly unpleasant. He hadn’t recovered, and was giving her head stricken looks. Gently, she used thumb and forefinger to winch his lower jaw up and then pull his head down until she looked him in the eye.
“And seeing as I’ve just mutilated my appearance for you, dear, if you don’t hold up your end then the divine fury of the spirits is nothing compared to the wrath that I shall visit upon your pretty self.”
His eyes had kind of glazed over, but Feather was pretty sure he got the gist.
“Have a big breakfast, handsome.” Still smiling serenely, she patted his midriff and then swept out to get ready for work.
* * *
Later, when he’d recovered, Isaac pointlessly yelled all kinds of blue murder over what she’d done. And when that resoundingly failed to have any effect on her (because even if she cared about what he thought on the matter there was quite simply nothing she could do now bar buy a wig) he simply descended into dark, disgruntled grumbling. But he did so over several meals significantly bigger than usual, partly by her design and, significantly, partly under his own steam. He ate as if each bite was a point scored against her. The first couple of nights (and mornings) he whinged and moaned about chronic indigestion and heartburn, but on receipt of her standard response-to-male-complaints of completely ignoring him he seemed to lose heart. He just began popping chalk tablets after each and every meal.
By the end of that first week (when confronted by an extra large spaghetti Bolognaise at a local restaurant) there was a definite shadow of reluctance in his eyes, but he still cleaned the entire plateful, along with several large chunks of garlic bread. A few surreptitious glances her way made her think it was a deliberate decision. It had obviously become a point of pride for him not to wuss out first. Her hair (which wasn’t even long enough to be tied back and thus camouflaged slightly) had lost its newly-shorn hard edge, and was just beginning to sprout anew.
In total, he had packed away a lot of food, even by the standards of his prior high-energy input. Spending most of his nights at her place (she could afford a better standard of living), it hit the contents of her fridge in a way that she hadn’t anticipated, but there was no question of her abandoning play on account of a technicality like that. She resolved the issue the next time he complained about there not being enough to ‘feed him properly’ by presenting him with directions to the supermarket and a long shopping list. She didn’t get the contents of the list, but he didn’t complain again.
Aside from that rather odd dynamic to their relationship (there had been stranger), life together was fun. They went out, did things, danced (to describe him as a clutz was being kind, but she lived in hope), drank and generally partied until dawn. Her hair had grown, though still quite mortifyingly short. But just shy of a month after they’d got together it dawned on Feather as she lay in bed early one morning that, although her current lover was eating like a particularly energetic horse, it hadn’t made the slightest bit of difference to his shape. She hadn’t done anything overt (like demand an inspection), but she could tell when she leaned against him. Oh, he was definitely getting wider, but unexpectedly so- his shirts were now even tighter around his upper body, and his torso was like a tree trunk. He practically hulked in bed. She wasn’t averse to a well-toned body, but there was such a thing as overdoing it- it was like being squeezed by a friendly vice. It also hadn’t improved those few nagging rough edges to his personality (namely an increasingly well-developed ego-muscle) that sometimes jarred their relationship.
Feather prided herself on the reputation that, when in the mood, she could leave eight out of ten males exhausted and begging for mercy (and on one memorable occasion when they had both got a little carried away, bleeding. Isaac had already had to disguise a nipped ear), but she sure as hell wasn’t giving lover-boy that strenuous a workout. He’d somehow side-stepped the intended and natural consequences of a practically gluttonous high-calorie eating pattern.
It didn’t take that long to put two and two together. When light dawned in a rush, she almost kicked herself for overlooking it. She knew in a general kind of way that he worked out and did a lot of sport for fun (squeezing his actual productive and profitable work time to the bare minimum), but she’d be willing to bet her eye-teeth that at least one of those activities had become a hell of a lot more frequent of late whilst her back was turned.
That, she concluded, wasn’t playing fair. She couldn’t take that lying down. Something had to be done about it.
And she had been made to look a fool.
By all the spirits of her ancestors, that puppy was in trouble!
Her first instinct was to kick the low-down, dirty, sneaking, cheating (currently snoring) hound out of bed and skin him alive on the rug. But she held back a) because despite this disturbing new evidence against his character she was becoming surprisingly fond of this infuriating muscle-mutt. Doubly surprising for a fling she had entered into with an open mind and one eye firmly on the exit. Reason b) was the far less important consideration that she had no actual proof. She didn’t really need it, but he’d be able to play the injured innocent so well (especially with those round puppy-eyes he could use against her). ‘Wriggling out of it? No! Is it my fault if I’ve just got a good metabolism?’ Appeals to the jury: ‘You’ve seen how much I’ve been forcing myself to eat, all for her! And this is how she treats me!’ Rotten devious dog.
Instead, for now she lay back and composed herself. Isaac slumbered on, blissfully unaware of how for a second his future as a father (and just having a future in general) had hung so precariously in the balance.
All right, Mr. Eat-Your-Cake-And-Have-It, you win that round. Well done, no hard feelings (or at least, not too many). But you’re about to find the cake’s got a whole lot bigger (lets see him work that off). This means war.
She hadn’t thrown him out yet. She must be mellowing.
The last two groups that had historically fought the Arocho tribe could testify to their tactical skill at hunting, ingenuity at traps, pitfalls and ambushes, general ferocity and downright unsettling refusal to give up under any circumstance, and would have advised against messing.
That is, if they had still been around.
* * *
Feather didn’t mind admitting that, to start with, there wasn’t much action that she could take. Over-reaction would be as bad as no reaction: he wouldn’t win this battle of wills, but whatever the physical outcome she would have lost. She did, however, take the opportunity of a far more flexible work-pattern (she’d always preferred her nights free until then). She began hopping her workload around, and by happy coincidence this could sometimes quite unexpectedly give her more time to spend during the day with Guess Who? It turned out that Isaac really didn’t put much effort at all into his job and so had plenty of time to spare but, as suspected, during the first couple of weeks it became apparent that her new-found freedom clashed with previously unmentioned sporting shenanigans on his part. My my, had he always been such an active boy? She hadn’t realised. As long as he realised the compliment she was trying to pay him by wanting to be with him more, that was ok.
And he did seem to realise, or at least appreciate the fact. That wasn’t something you saw every day. Then she received the jolt that, when it was between sport and her, more often than not sport went sailing out of the window. Taken at face value, all indicators suggested that Isaac genuinely wanted to be around her. She found herself feeling more pleased and flattered than perhaps she ought, but it was a nice surprise. Anyway, at the very least the mighty Hercules was now finding exercise a whole lot less easy to come by.
His eating continued unabated. His stomach, used both to large loads in the interest of fuelling sport and to getting its own way, had obviously stretched further and took more filling. She spotted the occasional bewildered looks he’d give the heaped platterful in front of him (the helping to which he’d just helped himself), but it was all wolfed down regardless. No one could ever say that he didn’t enjoy his food.
For the first time in probably his whole adult life, his body-fat index began to creep above the red-line. It was barely noticeable- midsection bowing out a fraction more than it used to, the abdominal muscles beneath his fur just a shade less chiselled. You couldn’t tell, even beneath a tight shirt, but Feather thought she caught just the suggestion of it. It was about bloody time. And, though he steadfastly ignored it when he thought she wasn’t paying attention, she was sure that muscle-mutt had noticed as well- he spent too much time fascinated by mirrors not too, really. Once or twice she caught him unawares giving himself his usual once-over with a little more care and with less of an uncrackable aura of smugness than usual. Well, he didn’t expect to welch on their agreement forever, did he? She was merely providing him with some encouragement.
Confirmation of her suspicions re. welching and general trying-to-worm-out-of-things came memorably when Isaac tried to throttle back his appetite. One-night at dinner (in a steak house that she had found easier to tolerate than most, and one of his favourite eat-joints), he pushed his plate away with just under half of a medium-rare 14oz. peppered steak uneaten. Her innocent enquiry (well, it could have been innocent) if he was feeling alright earned her such a ferocious scowl she felt she ought to fall off her chair or mime being skewered to the wall. It took all her might not to giggle. He snatched the plate back and finished the steak with very bad grace. Dessert was inhaled as usual without demur, but he was in something of a sulk for the rest of the evening. On later occasions, although he ate well with her the sporadic way her fridge emptied, the general lack of food at his place and a noticeable degree of stomach-rumbling on his part made her think that he was trying very hard not to eat when he didn’t have to. Well, if he wanted to torture himself who was she to stop him? As a side effect, his food intake when she was around was practically ridiculous, earning him surprised looks from a number of waiters, other diners, burger-joint owners and take-away delivery persons. He was probably eating more than he otherwise would, the dumb dog. Ah well, let him stew for a while and see what happens. If she needed heavier weaponry at some point (ha! ‘Heavier’…) she could always revive her never-too-deep interest in cooking. But that would probably necessitate a call to her mother. She’d leave that until she absolutely had to. Maybe not even then.
Despite the dog’s somewhat drastic furtive reaction, his weight continued to nudge upwards for a while, leaving him with the meanest of padding around his midriff, like a layer of tissue paper around a pillar of rock. But it did make him appreciably more comfortable to lie against at night, Feather found, though he still weighed a tonne thanks to that all that dense muscle. You could actually rest your head against it and not suffer bruising or have your face go numb. She hadn’t really thought about what a chunkier boyfriend would mean apart from having taught him a lesson but, now confronted by fringe benefits like this, there were favourable comparisons to be made. His chest was still as hard as the hull of an ocean liner but, she decided, you couldn’t win them all at once.
* * *
Feather woke up one Saturday morning to find that the Season had started.
Oh. Right. Good.
On the second run through of the concept, with several interruptions to clarify points of interest, she felt that she’d got the important points. It was something to do with sport and she wasn’t expected to participate. Hooray. But couldn’t help noticing she’d become involved, somehow. Was Isaac playing for one of the teams? She’d never come and watched him play before. Oh, no, ok, it’s a silly question if you say so. He was just going to watch, along with lots of other demented people. Just what did this have to do with her, especially on a Saturday morning when, controversially, she’d been enjoying having a lie-in?
Oh, she was expected to come and watch as well. Hmm…
A month and a half ago any boyfriend trying to pull this stunt would have been told not to bother coming back because they were obviously dangerous and unwholesome. But she was having trouble heaping such pearls of scorn when faced with that hopeful, ludicrously optimistic face. Sometimes he could be so appealing.
He’d got two tickets (pretty expensive, good seats!), and was sure that if she just gave it a chance…
She hadn’t been planning to do anything today apart from sit and relax. Oh, hell, she could probably do that just as well wherever this thing was happening. So she agreed, got up and came along.
Twenty minutes after getting wherever-they-were in Isaac’s old off-roader (she preferred either to walk or use public transport), she shut her eyes and tried to recall that pleading, persuasive face. But it was difficult to concentrate over the sound of several thousand demented sports fanatics cheering and whooping, including the biggest dangerous and unwholesome nutcase of the lot right next to her. There was no chance of escape, however (the car keys were in the pocket next to her and that pocket wouldn’t be moving until this whole ghastly thing was over. And she didn’t want to get lost in this damn place). Why did she let herself get talked into these things…?
She’d never paid much attention to sport, seeing it as basically frantic, high energy activity without the point. Things like archery, fishing (the proper way, with spears), sailing, long distance running, sprinting, the kill, yes. They still had some point to them. This was one of the more popular Ímigré games, which she now mentally termed as hit-the-little-white-ball-someone-throws-at-you-with-a-stick. It probably had a snappier title, but it wouldn’t describe it so well. Beyond that, proceedings entirely eluded her. Had they even started yet? If they wanted to hit the ball a long way, why didn’t the first idiot throw the ball carefully? Probably too excited to think straight. Did the person who caught it win? No wait, that doesn’t explain this running-about business, or why there only seemed to be one member on the black-and-white’s team, who just stood in the middle looking angry. Well, understandable: if she were unfairly outnumbered like this there’d be hell to pay. And where’s the actual sport in this? They spend 95% of their time standing about. The people watching use up more energy. Very commendable though- why waste energy on a pillock-pastime like this? Oh, why am I bothering…?
She sat back. Then she sat forward, wincing on the uncomfortably hard tiny plastic seat, squashed in amongst so many others. She dreaded to think what the not-good seats were like. At least she’d got some kind of aisle. She’d thrown on a loose shirt and lightweight trousers, and then had restyled her hair (it was just long enough to do more than just brush it) after some kind of cap was plonked forcibly on her head in a presumably well-meant gesture. The dog she had accompanied here (she wouldn’t mention names) was now once again wearing it, having managed to un-jam it from over his eyes. The rest of him was decked out in a white top with red sleeves and shoulders, with two thin red vertical lines down each side-seam, and a pair of tight black trousers that vanished into red knee-length socks, most of which were hidden by the huge boots. The cap was red and white, too. On the basis of this, and the fact that she was the only person on this side of the big stadium they were in dressed in a similarly ludicrous fashion, she tentatively assumed that he supported the red-and-white team out on the grassy bit (except that their trousers weren’t black. Obviously the dress code was less strict for supporters). By the same token, the people on the other side all wearing blue and white tops, caps, gloves, shoes, banners, kitchen sinks etc. probably supported the blue-and-white players. No wonder that poor guy just dropped the ball he was trying to catch: you can’t hear yourself think for all the screaming.
The numbers on the huge glowy board flipped over again indecipherably. She’d got briefly excited when she’d seen a word written up there. But what on earth did the Apaches have to do with anything? No self-respecting tribe would be caught dead playing anything as childish as this! Besides, none of the people on the pitch seemed to be Native. She was beginning to get suspicious: a lot of the people around her had their faces smeared in sticky red stuff. Knowing the crassness of the Ímigré community, could they have sunk so low as to try and adopt some very bad imitation of war-paint? They wouldn’t dare- it was probably just sun-screen.
Well, that was more than enough brain-space wasted on this… Putting her head on her hands, she practised her acting, people and general corporate-board-meeting skills by giving the appearance of being absolutely fascinated by proceedings when actually she was counting seats or singing songs to herself. A couple of hearty nudges from her erstwhile companion almost knocked her out of her seat a couple of times, but she wasn’t sure what he was finding so exciting. She just smiled and carried on remembering all the advice her mother had given to her when she had set out from the Reservation to make her way out in the wider world. So far she was musing on the line ‘be very careful about any young males you meet…’
She was roused again by someone standing in front of her. This had happened a couple of times already, but as she focussed on the world around her she realised that before they’d been facing the game, whereas this one was facing her. Besides, each time before within five seconds Mr.-you’ll-enjoy-it had forcibly removed them from his field of view. This one was carrying a big tray in front of them.
She looked up, and for the first time felt interest as she stared into the distinctive features of the Arocho tribe (part of the south-riverside pack, if she wasn’t mistaken). The male they belonged to was adult but young, and gawping at her in horror. His muzzle was smeared with the same ridiculous goop as everyone else (although his had been applied with practised confidence and probably was meant to be war paint, and he might just get away with the defence that it wasn’t quite Apache markings. Tut tut, wearing another tribe’s markings), he was wearing some kind of cheap sham-head-dress of plastic feathers, and he had a plastic tomahawk tied to his belt. He seemed rooted to the spot. Taking her chance, she peered into the tray. It might have been food: the little packets of nuts she recognised, but she wasn’t at all sure about the rest.
At that point Isaac came back down to earth from cloud-sports-loon. He gave the putative-brave a big grin and pulled out his wallet (she’d never seen it produced so fast). Some kind of transaction occurred (too noisy to hear what). The quivering wolf did seem to be some kind of food-trader in fancy dress. Isaac handed over pretty much all the money he’d brought with him, and got two long breadish-things in return (but not before they’d been squirted with red and yellow stuff- ketchup and mustard?). The seller had managed to recover somewhat, and he stepped along smartly to where a great long row of people were clamouring for his attention. Feather would have followed him but had one of the long-food-lumps pressed into her hands by a grinning boyfriend. Where her fingers touched it, it squished. He said something to her and bit into the other with obvious enjoyment. She was a lot more careful about hers: some things they agreed on, but he was far more eager about the whole food issue than she was.
On closer inspection it was probably meant to be a hot-dog: she’d seen them sold in the city-streets and had even tried a couple. They’d been nothing wonderful, but edible. This wasn’t. It had either been slowly boiled to death in grease whilst the sausage was still alive or their fryer was broken. Limp, gooey onions were leaking out of the bun’s hinge, and the stuff squirted onto them probably was mustard and ketchup, though she had always been brought up to avoid anything as violently yellow as this because it usually meant that the animal was poisonous. She took her sense of smell in her hands and sniffed carefully. She wasn’t quick enough, however, and her eyes began to water. All of this took about five seconds. Isaac was already more than half-way through his specimen.
Now she had to play lets-sit-here-and-pretend-to-be-so-interested-in-the-game-you’ve-forgotten-about-the-delicious-hotdog-he-bought-for-you-in-your-hand. She managed this for about ten minutes, the dog growing unpleasantly cold as she held it. She wondered where she could dispose of it- looking around, there were no bins less than a mile away. It looked as though most people just chucked their rubbish on the floor. In fact, just as Isaac appeared to have done with the wrapper from the hot-dos once he’d finished his…
She thought for a second. Then, when talking to him left no discernible effect, she elbowed him just below the ribs. When he looked her way, she proffered the hotdog. He looked surprised that anyone should be turning down such decent food, but took it happily enough and again ate it with every sign of enjoyment.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been trapped there, and didn’t have a clue how much longer the lunacy on the field was going to take. After a few minutes, she twisted in her seat and scanned the stadium behind her. She couldn’t spot the brave-food-seller (he’d probably made his escape) but she noticed a whole gang of similar people spread out amongst the stands. The two closest at least also had very familiar profiles. She grinned wolfishly.
So now she knew what Natives had to do with this whole affair.
She stood and began to make her way up the aisle. Amazingly, her supposedly-still-her-boyfriend noticed and looked about quizzically. She made a ‘stay’ motion with her hand, smiled, and carried on. He watched for a few steps in puzzlement and then was hypnotised by the game again.
She returned a few minutes later. Her hands were full. The two new hotdogs had been pricey on account of their actually being better quality, but she had got the amazing discount of not-telling-your-family-that-their-son-isn’t-a-high-flying-businesswolf-in-the-big-city-like-he-said-but-sells-snacks-at-an-Ímigré-entertainment-event. The hotdog in the seat next to her didn’t notice her return. She learned that waving food in his face got his undivided attention very quickly, and got him two fresh snacks smothered in onions, ketchup, mustard and everything. He looked as though the spirits had appeared offering divine and holy salt, and they were wolfed down during some excitement where the person with the bat almost brained the sole member of the black-and-white-team. Isaac seemed to be of the opinion that they deserved it for some reason.
The second time she returned with hotdogs, he grinned delightedly as though he couldn’t believe his luck, and ate them just as fast. The same vendor had thought along similar lines, but had had an entirely different expression.
The third time he took them wordlessly (with a can of cold beer to wash them down), smiling but looking a little uncertain. That particular vendor had vanished, but news like her had got around and, luckily, it seemed that all of the food-sellers were Arocho males looking to make extra money in the big city.
* * *
The game ended. The time had gone quickly.
“Shall I drive?” Feather helped Isaac lean against the off-roader to help straighten his spine. The dog groaned and stretched, rubbing weakly at his seriously distended belly beneath the now-snug top.
“Can you… can you drive? Ok! Ok.” He retracted the question hurriedly. “But have you got your licence?”
“Yes. Somewhere.” She fished the keys out of his pocket so that he didn’t have to compress himself unnecessarily and swung into the driver’s seat. He managed to haul himself into the passenger side, whimpering as though he was afraid his stomach might explode, then pushed the chair back as far as it would go.
“Jus’… jus’… argh…” he hiccuped, cap askew, paws trying to soothe the bloated time-bomb in his middle. She tried to drive back to her place carefully, without any sudden stops or bumps. He tried to keep up a commentary on how the game had gone and its implications for something called the League over the Season (she gathered that there was going to be more than one of these things, though she had no idea how long the Season was), but he lapsed into a stuporous silence, punctuated by the occasional moan, whine or belch.
When they parked under her nice, quiet apartment block, he really didn’t to move, his gut looking even more swollen than before. She gently cajoled him out with the promise of a bed where he could lie out flat. He staggered into the lift, out again on her floor and into her apartment, then kind of sprawled across it, eyes crossed and panting from the pressure in his belly. A long, helpless moan escaped from the overpressured pooch.
Feather helped him roll onto his back and spread him out. He whimpered, but breathed a little more easily.
“Hope I showed you a… good time t’day.” He grunted weakly as she slipped a pillow under his head. “’Was really… great t’have you there… t’see us win like that.”
She was pretty sure he meant it. The several cans of beer probably weren’t helping, but he seemed drunk on food. Maybe something in the mustard. He whined again uncomfortably, and fumbled hazily with his paws. Smiling, she pushed them away and undid his belt and the top button and zip of his trousers for him. His liberated stomach spread out from behind them, forcing itself bigger. He looked a little more comfortable, though his top was still tight. As gently as she could, she placed her hands on his sides, raising another gurgling whimper, then slowly slid them and his top up until it was ruckled around his chest. He groaned in relief as his stomach settled a little more. She sat on the edge of the bed.
“Those food-sellers today.”
“Were they the only Arocho you’d met before me? Hell, were they the only Natives?”
“Ungh? Yeah, pretty… pretty much.” His eyes were drowsily half-shut, and a smile spread over his muzzle. “Y’r much prettier, though.” The smile vanished when she lightly put a paw on his inflated, aching belly, but slowly began to return as she carefully rubbed it. It was packed full, stomach taut and firm under her fingers, pressed out into a bulge a few inches deep. His sides had spread to cope with it, making him look as though he’d swallowed a ball. She could feel his tail- currently trapped underneath him- trying to wag, thumping against the mattress. He seemed to be getting a little more coherent. “D’you know any of them?”
“No. Different groups within the tribe.”
“Arg. Oh. They… they sure liked you… though. Kept serving you… so fast. Never happens like that. Th’nks. Ungh… must’ve cost you big, all that… great food.” He hiccuped, and winced painfully. “But I think I… had one too many. I mean… twelve! Oogh…”
He’d eaten sixteen. That was five too many. Plus three packets of nuts and a choc-ice. He had single-handedly and quite literally eaten into their profits.
“You just rest. You look tired out.” She moved her hand onto his forehead. A blissful, exhausted smile covered his muzzle.
“Yeah… think’ll… take a nap… before dinner… But we stuffed them though, didn’t we, eh?” He managed to push her hand away and grinned sleepily at her. It took her a second to tune into radio hit-the-ball-with-a-stick. “We totally stuffed them!”
That we had.
She noticed a pair of somethings sticking out of his pocket. When she fished them out, they turned out to be the tickets.
“Do you want me to bin these for you?”
“No! Gods, no!” He actually tried to sit up in his vehemence, and regretted it quite severely. He flopped back in agony.
“N’rf. They’re… season tickets.” He grinned weakly at her. “Thought it’d be a… good surprise. The Apaches’re playing at home again next… next week, too.”
* * *
She went along with him next week, too. That was the trouble with not making your feelings plain the first time around. It had been hard enough trying to say no last week. Now he had it in his head that she quite liked the whole ghastly spectacle, and for some reason the thought of how disappointed he’d look if she put him straight (as she would have done with almost anyone else) left a sour taste in her throat. This time they sat a bit further back. A discreet pair of earplugs came in handy as well (at least she’d been able to come more prepared). She’d found out beforehand that you couldn’t bring snacks with you.
The food sellers were really upset to see her again. She played nice, though, and even paid them for some of the food she bought.
Apparently ‘they’ won again. On the other scorecard: hotdogs 15, choc-ices 5 (it had been hot), packets of dry-roasted peanuts many, cans of beer 2 and cans of diet coke 1.
Isaac eventually twigged.
“Y’re… crazy…” he grunted painfully as he lowered himself onto the edge of the bed, holding his burstingly-full gut. He was wearing the same kit as last time. “Tot’lly… crazy…” He was forced to lean back, bracing himself with his arms. He panted heavily and slowly, eyelids drooping. Feather smiled and kissed him lightly on the forehead, knocking his cap back a little. He gave her a dazed look. “N’ I mus’ be crazy for sticking around. I know… what y’re doing to me. Urf… feel like I’m… gonna… pop.”
Isaac shut his eyes and made a soft little sound as she playfully kissed him again, her hands gently sliding his top up to give his stomach stretching room.
“’F only y’ weren’t so… lovely.”
He leant against her a little, nuzzling, trying to run a hand through her hair, which still looked short but wasn’t shortest. She managed to keep his dead-weight upright. It was funny: he was probably going to be difficult when he came out of it, but like last week in this state he was amazingly sweet. Hopefully the result would keep him in a good mood, and that he’d put it out of his mind by tonight. Forgiveness didn’t enter into it: he deserved all that he was getting (he’d made his choice). But she’d regret him stomping off in a petulant huff.
* * *
Feather managed to procure herself a pair of tickets of a different kind early in the week. These were for a party- invitation only. They hadn’t been out properly for a while, so she gave Isaac first refusal on the other. He’d been a bit quiet for the past few days (some sulks were harder to shift than others), but he said yes, at least. It was that Thursday night, and they’d meet at the party. Isaac wanted to go and work out for a while beforehand.
Seeing as her hair was still a fairly ridiculous length, she decided that she had nothing left to lose on that front, and so went for daring. She had to admit that she quite liked the result, but it wasn’t for every day: her glossy black hair was scrolled into curls and waves, tied at the nape of her neck with a length of scarlet silk. A few curls had artfully escaped to frame her ears. It felt very buccaneer, so she went with it and completed the look with summery white trousers that laced at her calves, fine leather boots, a wine-red blouse with a low cut and a long silk scarf (from which the ribbon had been taken) tied loosely at her waist. The scarf was decorated with a pretty watermark pattern and a twist on an old Native print. She wound a decorative little knife into it. At her neck were three intricately carved bone dice threaded onto thin black rope: if you rolled them the spirits were meant to reveal the future through the figures on the different faces. To complement all this she chose her silver ear-chain, a simple but elegant present from her family when she had moved out and come down to the city seven years ago. It clipped neatly along the outside edge of her right ear, and sparkled in the soft lights of the garden room penthouse, where the party was being held UpTown (very, very swanky). There was up-beat music coming from the dance-floor.
She moved easily amongst the throng with her tall, ice cold glass of Native’s Tears. She knew she cut a scandalous, predatory figure tonight, but that was part of the fun. She’d been scandalising her way up the social pack since she had arrived from the quiet, respectable Reservation, wanting a taste of a more dangerous life and applying herself to leading it with the same competent dedication she applied to work. But then, you knew tonight was going to be at least mildly scandalous from the start (it was that kind of party. She enjoyed the atmosphere, but tried not to inhale deeply). If you knew where to look, you could find great times. It was nights like these that she felt you could meet someone, and that anything could happen.
She spotted Isaac a second or so before he spotted her, and she watched him. He’d picked up his suit and a shirt from his place, but you could tell he was feeling uncomfortable in this kind of crowd by the uncertainty in his step. That wasn’t the way to go about it: you made things uncertain of you. She took a long sip of her drink and tilted her head back, letting the rivulet of smoky fire trickle down her throat. It tasted wild, tonight.
When she opened her eyes again he had just recognised her, as his eyes had been about to move away. Smiling to herself, she looked away and continued her slow prowl. He caught up with her next to the buffet table, a glass in his hand. Her nose told her he’d had a drink to calm his nerves before coming, poor thing. She hadn’t told him what she was going to wear. He was staring at her admiringly, and she felt that chemistry from when she’d first seen him, now with the added fuel of shared memories. It was a potent mix. She smiled her most devastating smile, and they stood very close.
“Oh, wow. You look… ravishing!” She gave him a demure smile, and leaned her head back to look at him. There were over a dozen beautiful females in this room, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She watched as his eyes lit up further, and he leaned in. “Your hair…” he ran his fingers wonderingly through the curls, filling the space around them with rose and limes. She’d sprayed it with him in mind.
“I’m glad you like it.”
He was practically mesmerised. He leaned against her, making an eager, growling noise. He’d have to wait until later. He put his arms around her waist.
“I love it.” He sniffed again, and gave a little groan of pleasure. “I can’t even imagine how I’m going to feel when you’ve let it grow.”
“Ah.” She smiled and moved in his arms until he was at her back, his nose in her hair. She glanced left and right, almost as though it were part of a dance. “Our favourite subject.” She subtly shrugged one shoulder, the edge of her blouse moving to expose her collarbone.
“I’d love to see it in every style from here to the floor.” He made to kiss her exposed neck.
“The floor!” She let her eyes go wide and laughingly twitched out of the way of his kiss. “You’d be waiting a very long time for that.”
“I really think it’d be worth the wait.” Yes, he’d had a drink before coming over. His suit and shirt were clean and well pressed, but very… conventional. She didn’t want tonight to be conventional. The smells in the room were probably already going to his head a little. She had a higher tolerance.
He gave up the chase for a second and took a rueful glance around.
“Who are these people?”
“Oh, this and that. The exotic.”
He sipped his drink and tried hard not to cough. She chuckled smokily. He stared into the glass.
“And what’s this?” She took it expertly from him and sipped. She made an appreciative noise.
“Mmm… Satan’s Whiskers.” She gave him a sly glance, and ruffled his chin. “Do you think that suits you?”
“I’ll suit anything you want me-” disappointingly, his rather good little speech was curtailed as he suddenly goggled at something across the room. She glanced that way rather more discreetly, then she smiled and pulled his head away. She put his glass on the buffet table- he might drop it.
“Now now, don’t stare.” She murmured quietly.
“But he’s huge!” he whispered back hoarsely still gawping. He was right there: the tall Alsation across the room probably weighed two and a half times what her muscle-hound did, but his was pure fat. His neck was as thick as one of Isaac’s thighs, and there was nothing he had to match the Alsation’s vast chest and belly, which bulged out for feet. You couldn’t tell from this view, but he was almost certainly as wide as he was deep. He was also wearing one of the most fashionable, tasteful, (not to mention expensive) suits she had ever seen. It was cut in a Southern style, and his bulk was swathed in an acre-like shirt beneath it in purple-blue shot silk. It was the kind of clothing she imagined the Spirits would pick if they chose to come to a party like this. The curves of his body and the impenetrable blackness of the suit reminded her of a galleon sailing across a bay at midnight, the sails bellied out in the wind. The appearance of a bewitching female next to him with a plate of canapés resolved the mystery.
“Ah.” She removed her gaze back to the shell-shocked Isaac. “That, if I’m not very much mistaken is the long term beau of Ms. Alexandra Altiplano, the richest and most remarkable female here. The amazing creature with him is Ms. Altiplano herself. I’m surprised such an important visiting businessfemale would grace such a small, inconsequential party with her presence. There must be something very special about tonight.”
She smiled significantly at him. Isaac missed it: he still couldn’t get over the whole size thing.
“You remember me telling you about those up and coming economies down South? The Jaguar States? Well, she’s from there, and she’s incredibly powerful.
“And what’s he? Something even bigger, by the looks of him.”
“He wasn’t anyone important. From what I’ve heard they just met and it was love at first sight. They’ll be getting married soon.” Isaac was still transfixed. She turned and gave the couple another quick glance. For all his supposed rags-to-riches story, the enormous dog still looked more comfortable here than Isaac. But other information was finally penetrating the cheaply-suited dog’s brain.
“Do you know her?” That made Feather laugh.
“Me? I’m not even in the same world as someone like her.” Ms. Altiplano had hair that came down over her shoulders. “But I’ll bet I can dance better than she can.” She added quietly. Isaac grunted and returned his attention to her.
“Well,” he said, grinning and nodding meaningfully in the ample Alsation’s direction “here’s to their growing ‘economy’.” He snickered. She tilted her head and smiled.
“And here’s to your just growing.”
It was a very good job he wasn’t trying to take a drink. He still choked briefly, nevertheless. She realised that she really enjoyed shocking the pants off him. There was something so appealing about the expression he pulled whenever it happened.
“Not funny.” he growled in a very low voice, “not funny at all.” He looked around in case someone could possibly have overheard, then hitched at the waistband of his trousers. She just smiled laconically at him, using a long, curled tortilla crisp to scoop up a wave of guacamole from the buffet table. She nibbled the end of it: it was very good, if spicy. He was looking equally heated.
“You want me to end up looking like… like that walking whale over there?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Now there’s an idea.” Before he could try to back-and-fill his tactical error, she silenced him with the remaining crisp and dip. Whilst he munched, she ran her hand over his middle. She could feel the bulge where the very tentative beginnings of a paunch pressed at the belt of his trousers. He’d spent more time watching sport than playing it, recently.
“Youmph…” he said, then swallowed his mouthful first. “You,” he repeated quietly, “are crazy. Certifiably insane. Cuckoo. A nut.” He reached for another laden crisp.
“I notice that you’re still here.” She caught sight of a couple approaching them past his shoulder. It wasn’t a nice surprise. “Oh, hell.” she growled, to his complete befuddlement.
Ex-boyfriends were a curse.
“Hey, Ise!” the approaching male bellowed. His shoulders were even wider, his swagger more prominent (if currently unsteady). He caught sight of her, and stopped. “Coby?!” He rubbed his eyes theatrically, and laughed. “Are you two still together? Woah, talk about high boredom thresholds!”
Ah… that old familiar feeling of wanting to rip someone’s head off. She’d missed that since breaking up with Bret. Definitely more than she’d missed him. ‘Ise’ was looking bemused but pleased. They slapped backs, and the testosterone quotient in the room began climbing ominously.
“Bret, old buddy! What’re you doing here?”
“Same as you.” The archetypal sports-dog grinned stupidly in a suit stretched around the chest and shoulders. “Free booze, free food, swung an invite. But you’ll have got yours off Coby here, I’d guess.” He leered. “It won’t come for free then, I’m betting. Been there, done that, y’know? I like the dress, though, babe. Suits you. Chowing down already, huh Ise? Bulking up for winter training? Haha, good one!” He thumped his suddenly less happy work-out buddy on the back, then suddenly remembered something. “Oh, I want to introduce my new flame. She’s Native too.” The petite female he was with was young and girlish. She looked Arocho, but the heavy emphasis on traditional style (three or four different patterns on her dress was just too much) and the plaited hair… no-one from the Reservation would want to dress like that here. Probably city-born.
“Hi,” she said gushingly. “I’m Wendy.” Wendy? Definitely city-born.
“And this is Ise, my good buddy, and this i-”
“Cobalt Falling Feather. A pleasure.”
Smiling politely, the two females sized each other up over about a heartbeat. Wendy resumed being girlish.
“Wow, it’s really nice to finally meet someone from the Old Country… Feather.” At least she’d worked out that Falling Feather wasn’t a surname. Better than most Ímigrés. “I’d love to hear all about it.”
“It’ll probably bore you to death. I’d rather not do that at a party.”
Bret had just nudged his friend in the ribs and slurred, grinning:
“Looks like we both got our hands onna couple a squaws, eh? What does that make us? Heap Big chiefs!”
Wendy looked at her, smiling neutrally.
“Would you like to trade?” she asked in faultless Arocho. Feather quirked her lips.
“No thank you,” she replied in kind, “I already know which is the better choice. Excuse me,” she returned to English, “but I love this song.” She turned to ‘Ise’, who was looking confused and a little uncomfortable. Bret was obviously still trying to work out why he couldn’t understand what the females had been saying in front of his back. “Would you like to dance?” She made sure that anyone other than a deaf idiot could understand it wasn’t a question.
“Uhh…” Great, because she could assume he wasn’t deaf. “Sure.” She smiled brightly, took his hand and led him away to the floor, leaving that other pair standing in her wake. On the way she leaned against his shoulder and whispered intimately:
“If those extra-large muscles of yours mean you can’t dance straight then I will skin you.”
She was going to dance her very, very best. Just making a point.
* * *
“I didn’t know you could dance like that.”
It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and they were in bed. Even more tired now. Feather lifted her head from Isaac’s chest. It had lost its rock-hard firmament recently, and made a nice rest.
“You know I like to dance.”
“Tabletops? Spinning kicks? Aerials? The bar?” She smiled and rested her head back comfortably. She hadn’t danced like that in a long time.
“Why do you think I didn’t wear a skirt? Do you think we caused a scandal?”
“We?” She felt his chuckle through his torso, and he breathed alcohol all over her. “I juss’ held onto you, babe. Besides, it only got to be a problem when everyone else tried to copy.”
He nuzzled her and ran his hand through her hair. No hairstyle lasted long with him around. They settled back together, the covers half-pulled around them. She absently ran her hand down his front, head still on his chest. It felt warm and giving, not a rock-solid piece of flesh anymore. His sides had grudgingly padded out a bit recently, too. But she could tell his mind was somewhere else for a while.
“I don’t like the way Brett talks to you.” He said it slowly, as though he were working out something difficult. Despite her best efforts, they’d had to talk to that troglodyte later in the evening. Guess which pair had tried to out-drink each other? She and Wendy had just tried to out-polite one another.
She raised herself a little and put her hands behind his neck.
“He goes after anything female and breathing. Why do you think he never lasts more than two months with anyone? Don’t worry about him: we were a mistake. A bad, messy, thankfully brief mistake. I can’t stand the sight of him. Now I’ve got you.”
He grunted and shook his head.
“I didn’t… didn’t mean that. I meant how he talked about you. Didn’t like it a bit. Think he’s goin’ out with Wendy juss’… just so he can have something like you. Like he thinks you are. Juss’ another girl. Sterythingy. You’re not.” He looked her earnestly in the eye, hiccuped, then flopped back and heaved a huge, mournful sigh. “Why’d I always try and say this stuff when I’m drunk? Y’never believe me.” Isaac lifted his head again, unsteadily. “But you’ve got… class. Real class. Something no-one else c’n touch. Buckets more’n a jerk like me. More’n I’ll ever have.”
He rolled closer to her. “But I’m not… like him. Bret. I could… could see it hurt you. Really. What he said. That kinda stuff. ‘M not like him. I swear I’m not.”
She tried so hard to stay smiling. She gently took his head in her hands.
“Just promise me something.”
“That you’ll never, ever, ever… call me ‘Coby’”
He blinked owlishly at her, then grinned stupidly. His tongue lolled out briefly.
“Or ‘babe’. Or ‘doll’, or anything like that again.” He started laughing, and lay back.
“What’m I meant to call you then?” She smiled.
“Anything you want, except those.”
“And that. Ask me first, anyway.” Feather grinned and gently pulled him closer. He nuzzled her neck. She put her arms around his broad back.
“Your hair still smells great.”
“You’re drunk. Get some sleep.” He gave a little groan.
“M’head hurts already.” She smiled fondly.
“It’s your own stupid fault.”
She blinked. He slowly pulled away from her and flopped back onto the pillow. He looked unbearably sleepy, and his eyes were shut.
“C’n I call you ‘crazy’? ‘Zat ok?”
She stroked his cheek, and watched his breathing slow. When she heard the first few little snores, she eventually whispered:
“Yes. You can call me crazy.”
* * *
Despite the good use she’d put it to, Feather just couldn’t stand going to any more sport for a while. That next Saturday she found that work was unavoidable. She didn’t like lying to Isaac about it- the palpable disappointment he showed was something of a shock. It didn’t help that the Apaches lost (something that the actual Tribe would not have tolerated, certainly): he returned in a foul mood and ravenously hungry.
He stayed grumpy for pretty much the entire week, though he loosened up when the ‘hungry’ part was well taken care of. Light relief on her part came when she was solemnly informed that ‘the Apaches were playing away’ for the next couple of weeks- those pricey tickets he had didn’t seem to cover that particular eventuality. Given that the Apaches refused to give up their ancestral tradition of migration within their territory, he really should have seen this coming. She guessed that he was in the mood to hear that, so she kept quiet. But they’d doubtless migrate back here eventually, she was sure. Isaac spent some of the time doing other sporting things, but rather more than she’d expected at work. He had a little bit more cash than usual in consequence, which was pleasant. Work had also got a bit busier for her, recently (people who are diligent and work hard are typically rewarded with more of the same), to the point when she was beginning to resent how it ate into what had been free time. She’d got used to a slightly more relaxed lifestyle in the company of her mutt. Still, she knuckled down and got on with it. Another step up the corporate pack looked likely.
A few Thursdays later Feather managed to work to the point where she could have the whole afternoon off. When she got home, tired but happy and relaxed, she found Isaac sprawled across the entire sofa, a couple of cold pizza boxes and cans of beer suggesting he’d been there for most of the day. He was glued to her flat-screen (not usually worth watching, but a good status-symbol. She believed in those).
She was back early. Apparently there was a big game on today. How could she not have known? Of course not the Apaches, they didn’t play football, did they? What kind of a question was that? She felt another dangerous excursion to the World of Sport threatening, so she left it right there.
However, it successfully scuppered all the plans she’d been short-listing in her head. Isaac proved immovable. Suggestions of the cinema or an afternoon out were met with utter incomprehension. Didn’t she understand? There was a game on!
Maybe the day had been tougher than she’d thought, or she hadn’t had enough time to relax recently, because for once Feather began to lose her cool. Couldn’t that bloody hound think of anything else when there were sports around? Unfair and untrue, she knew, but she was in the mood to argue it regardless. Instead, she calmed herself and retreated to the kitchen, where she put some music on. Quietly, so as not to disturb the oafish mutt. But she kept glancing out anyway, where she could see the peak of his cap and his bare feet sticking out from either end of the sofa. He remained chained to it. Each time she looked, though, she got angry again.
She’d been really looking forward to doing something nice, too. She tried very, very hard to put it out of her mind. Unfortunately, the kitchen was fairly full of reminders: Isaac had obviously wanted to feel that he had a choice of snacks for during his prolonged loaf. She was tempted to cram them all down his throat-
“Could you bring me out something from the side, please, babe?”
He’d been very, very good about not calling her that, but sometimes it slipped out. Usually when his mind was on sport. And he’d said please…
Well, he’d asked for it…
He grinned happily when she brought him two of the bumper bags of crisps, but didn’t even make a move to get up to fetch them from her.
“I know how much you like to see me eat…” he tore into the first bag with unbridled gusto. Crumbs showered across his chest and stomach, which nowadays formed a visible bulge beneath that soft, comfy T-shirt. The backside he was spending most of the day sitting around on had also begun to grow in volume, she thought, causing his shapeless old jeans to fill out further. His arms and legs were still powerfully built, though his face had recently acquired a little more padding. It only really made a difference when he smiled. All in all, it was an interestingly endearing look- more than sleek but not overweight (not yet, anyway). The slightly intimidating edge of a granite-carved figure had faded away to be replaced by something more personable.
That something personable’s eyes had already strayed back to the blaring television, however, his hand dipping into the bag and finding its way to his muzzle on automatic. Not wanting to get angry with him again, she returned to the kitchen. There, she pulled out a ribbon and tied her hair back to stop it getting in the way- it was now longer than she liked, especially after the convenience of it being short for so long. It was in good condition, and she’d prefer to have it hanging loose. But if she was going to spend her afternoon preparing food…
It took him relatively little time to scoff both big bagfuls, and pretty soon she heard him call out hopefully again. He’d now added crisp crumbs to the collection of pizza stains on his pale muzzle. It looked like adverts on the screen. He obviously couldn’t be expected to miss them to get his own food.
“Sorry about not d-whOOF!” He wheezed under the weight of the large earthenware bowl she placed on his plushly-padded stomach. She could carry it if she put both arms around it. The weight of the bowl disguised the weight of the contents: a huge, fresh ham salad, with a fork stuck into it. Well, ham-chicken-sausage salad. And more ham-chicken-sausage than salad, and smothered in a rich, thick salad dressing with bacon bits in it. Hands up anyone who thinks it was diet?
It was called a salad, if nothing else. If he was going to overeat, he might as well get some decent nutrition in first.
He was gaping at the bowl, the smell of all the meat making him salivate. He grunted, and shifted its weight so that he could breathe properly
“Where’d all this come from, sweetheart? Is it all for me?” She smiled and sat on his legs.
“I thought you’d like something more summery. Eat up: it’ll make your coat nice and glossy.”
He gave a bemused kind of half-shrug and dug in greedily, his attention actually drawn away from the screen for a few mouthfuls.
“Mmsh! Shanks! S’goo…”
Something particularly noisy pulled his head away again, and she lost him to the game, which apparently had just restarted. In the spirit of goodwill and understanding, she watched a few minutes of it, but it just didn’t do anything for her. She picked up the stained pizza boxes (they were suspiciously bare, as though someone had picked off all the bits of cold, solid cheese and crumbs), and dropped them in the recycling bin. Waste not, want not.
When she went out ten minutes or so later with a big glass of fruit juice to wash some of that food down (he didn’t need to drink all the beer he’d supplied himself with), it was another engrossing ad-break. He’d already wolfed a majority of the bowlful, but was slowing some as it backed-up in his digestive system. She left the glass within reach and crept back out to the kitchen. He was already reaching for it when she passed the door.
She gave him a few minutes to let all that go down before restocking him unprompted (about a quarter of an hour after he’d started on his salad). His attempts to lick his muzzle clean of dressing had just managed to spread it across his face. She really did have to wonder about his tastes sometimes- did anyone else on the planet eat cheesy popcorn? But apparently you could buy it, and it was still hot inside its foil. It was easier to give him the sealed bag direct. Her appearance was greeted with an unexpected scowl, then she realised that she had stood in between him and the screen. Oh, the mortification, oh the shame. But he popped the first bag readily enough, even as she relieved him of the empty bowl. The overpowering smell of processed cheese chased her from her own living room.
A few minutes later he asked for a beer: the popcorn had left him parched. He got one, poured into a glass for him. That was looked at askance (obviously correct etiquette dictated maximum mess and masculinity) but it wasn’t turned away. She was offered some of it, so she took a sip. It looked like exactly the same advert break that had been on before.
She took the chance to ask why he wasn’t with ‘the guys’ watching this. Apparently they’d been able to get tickets. He hadn’t. Sport reappeared on the screen, and any chance of deep meaningful communication lapsed. She took away the one empty foil bag- the contents of the other were already being demolished stolidly. It was interesting to see how the moving pictures on the screen could distract him so completely, even from the huge quantity of food he was consuming. And during those Saturday games. He was like Pavlov’s dog, conditioned to eat every time he heard fans hooting, whistling and shouting.
He looked a lot less comfortable when she returned later, the emptied bag of popcorn hanging greasily from his paw. His stomach appeared to be quite full. He gave a little groan as she placed the earthenware bowl on his chest this time, partly to avoid adding any more pressure and to block his view of how prominently his belly was showing. The T-shirt was stretched tautly around its widest point, sinking into the dent of his bellybutton. The material bunched and stretched in time with his breathing. Out of sight, out of mind.
It was some kind of half-time show going on. The bowl under his nose was piled high with pork-rinds (according to the packet). He could have just stuck his head into them. Instead, he began popping them into his muzzle, but taking his time to chew each one thoroughly, cheeks puffed out with each laboured breath. He took a long time to work his way through the ridiculously big bowlful, though the glass of beer and the jug of water provided to him slipped down much more quickly.
He cracked when it came to the kilo of pistachio nuts (she normally loved these herself, but they were almost inedibly salty).
“Not a chance.” He growled heavily, plonking the new bowl onto the floor, spilling some. For the moment he’d lost interest in events on the screen- an achievement in itself. He rubbed his swollen middle, grimacing- he should be used to it by now. “I’m stuffed. Feel like some prize pig.” He fixed her with an accusing glare, as if his absent-minded overeating was her fault. “I’m not taking another bite, d’you understand? And (hic) there’s nothing you can do (hic) that’ll make it any different! (Hic).”
He was happy to accept a glass of water for his hiccups, though. She left the room, and didn’t come back for some time.
* * *
When she returned, she was sure that the ridiculous game must be over soon. Isaac had forced himself into a sitting position on the sofa (surrounded by incriminating pistachio shells). He only heard her when she was a step or so away, walking up behind him. He leaned back to look up.
“I’m real sorry about earlier, honey. I didn’t mean to shhhhhhhhhh….”
He trailed away as she lowered what she was carrying into view over his shoulders. She’d been saving it for sometime special, but she really couldn’t let a challenge like that go unanswered.
The large banoffee cheesecake hung scant inches from his muzzle, oozing warm toffee sauce that filled the air around it with a sugary haze. There was a fork stuck in it.
“You’re crazy,” he whined in a small voice, fixated by the treat in front of him. “You’re evil!”
It wasn’t fair, really. She knew this prize pig couldn’t resist a pudding if there was one in front of him. He was practically trembling with temptation. She lowered it, and his hands came up on automatic to hold it. She let go.
“I don’t mind throwing the rest out,” she smiled into his ear, “but I thought you’d at least like to have a taste…” She left that hanging in the air, then turned and slipped back out of the room.
When she came back half an hour later, he’d found room for almost all of it. And a few more pistachio nuts. He’d turned the telly off, and was lying loggishly across the sofa in the ensuing silence. Unsurprisingly, he was fast, fast asleep. His muzzle was liberally smeared with banoffee sauce, and his stretched T-shirt had acquired an impressive collection of food-stains. After fetching him a pillow and tucking it behind his head, she cleaned up as quietly as she could. Though she doubted a bomb going off underneath him would have woken up her torpid, sweet-toothed prince. She stroked his belly once- it felt pumped full of food, but was lent softness by the outer covering of subcutaneous adipose. His lips twitched in what might have been a subconscious smile.
He looked so sweet when he was asleep.
* * *
When all else fails, resort to denial. Isaac seemed to have a hidden talent for it.
Despite the quite obvious tightening of his wardrobe, he refused point-blank to contemplate buying bigger sizes. She didn’t know quite how long he thought he could keep it up. It was now quite obvious that his figure had slipped, and the snug apparel only emphasised the furry belly bulging out above his belt and the bottom that packed the seat of his pants. There was even the beginnings of a spare tyre showing through his shirts, which were now tighter at the waist than they were at the chest. At no point in the process had he lost any of his original width, so he was threatening to become a very wide dog indeed. His arms hung out slightly from his sides, the forearms still muscular but shoulders filling with an extra spread of lard. Uncharitable people might have called him plump, but he could still get away with it. Just.
She waited for him to put himself on a diet so that he could salve his self-esteem by remaining within the same (uncomfortably tight) size bracket, but he kept on eating full steam ahead, and his appetite was huge. It was plain to everyone where he was putting it all. He was still working out and doing sport, but he seemed a bit less enthusiastic about it: when he had the chance his time was spent with her. Beyond that life carried on just as it had when they’d first got together. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. He couldn’t possibly just be completely ignoring how large he was becoming, could he?
But then, she was finding the whole thing strangely fascinating herself. When Isaac was in bed with her (recently he had become a much heavier sleeper, in both senses), she would surreptitiously hold onto his slumbering, bulging form. She remembered when his rocklike bulk had left her aching. Now he was giving and warm. When you put your arms around his middle they pressed in, and you felt his body change shape to accommodate you. It was something you wanted to be close to, to enjoy. His size invited her attention, demanded it, bent events around it. His presence was so immediate and electric that it made her feel she was seeing through to Isaac’s spirit, and as he’d gained it had grown faster to fill him out. She could reach out and hold that almost painfully real dog, and press her face into his living bodyheat. She’d never found overweight males attractive before- she’d never even given the idea a first thought. But now she was thinking it when confronted by this increasingly hefty hound, and liked what she saw and felt and smelt.
She only wished she knew what Isaac was really thinking.
She let him take her along to a Saturday ball-game yet again. He’d got it into his muttish muddle-head that somehow she was lucky (whenever she’d been there they’d won at home! The coincidence that they hadn’t won when she hadn’t been there could probably be applied to hundreds of people, but he wouldn’t listen. He wanted her to be lucky, and he could plead very persistently). It was the very middle of summer, and one of the hottest days yet. She suggested he wear something a little more lightweight, but the clothes were lucky too. Sport made him all manner of superstitious.
It was hot. Her hair, hanging down past her shoulders, made it even hotter, so she tied it back. It didn’t really make much difference. Her sports-mad hound amply occupied the seat next to her. The elastic material of the top and trousers had a lot of give in them, but there was only so much they could accommodate. Like the stadium, his uniform was filled to capacity. He occasionally tugged absent-mindedly at the skin-tight top, as though it was just hooked up somewhere and the tension could be relieved. It didn’t help that he ate almost continually throughout events on spectator autopilot, eyes barely leaving the events on the field whilst his laden hands guided themselves to an increasingly full-cheeked face. As the game progressed his belly swelled further into his lap, the bellybutton a spreading pit in the fabric.
Feather had quietly set up a tab with the Arocho food-sellers, and got a very good bulk discount. They seemed astonished at how much he could hold, and she suspected they might have supplied him regardless, just to test the limits of this canine bottomless-pit.
To her quiet chagrin, the ersatz Apaches won again. Isaac’s mule-headed belief in her mystical significance was going to be bigger than ever.
When they left the stadium, he rather groggily spent a lot of money on an Apache’s jacket. It had red sleeves, and the body was white with thin red stripes. There was the stylised and much-abused classic silhouette of a Native chief on the back, head-dress and all.
He bought a size ‘L’.
Unnoticed (by him), his bloated, junk-food stuffed midsection had forced itself between his top and his waistband. A half-inch, high-pressure roll of tar-brown fur spread out all around, hidden from casual inspection by his dark trousers. His gut joggled solidly as they made their way to his old off-roader.
* * *
Feather got home early one afternoon to find, to her surprise, that Isaac was there too. A bunch of work-out clothes (used), lay scattered around where they’d been taken off. They led to her bathroom, where a certain amount of steam (plus his water-slicked fur, stuck smoothly to the bulging curves of his body) suggested he’d just had a shower.
He was only just failing not to cry.
He caught sight of her in the mirror and wouldn’t meet her eye. He wouldn’t look in the mirror at all.
“You win.” he said thickly. “I’m fat. Well done.” He sniffed mightily, and wiped his nose. He’d finally bowed to the inevitable.
She stepped into the room, and came closer. He was a chubby animal. Clad only in a pair of y-fronts, she could see in the mirror the big furry bulge of his torso. The streak of white fur across his chest had stretched with it, making a downward curve. His shoulders hung dejectedly, making his swollen sides crease and ruckle. His tail slumped limply against his bottom (still muscular but generously padded). His thighs and upper arms had softened like chocolate ice-cream just beginning to melt, hard ridges becoming well-fed curves. With his head down like that, a double chin was on the way.
He rubbed his eyes and tried to chuckle. His ears had wilted to practically nothing.
“You know what Bret called me today? ‘A huge, blubber-bellied slob’. Bastard- and the rest of them as well. I punched him for you. N’ for me, too.”
He tried to avoid her as she came closer, still refusing to look at her. He sniffed again, and his shoulders shook a little. It made his sides wobble fractionally.
“’S just… crazy. I… I don’t know how I let this...”
He sniffed again.
“I should’ve stopped… ages ago. Quit. Run. But I just… couldn’t leave you. I didn’t want to leave you.”
She stepped closer, between him and the mirror, and took hold of his hands, lacing her fingers into his. Even they felt a bit thicker.
“I’ve become a complete hog, haven’t I? It’s crazy… how did it…? ‘M probably crazy, too.” He tried laughing again, but it went badly wrong. “Me and my big mouth: I didn’t think you were serious. But there you were, and you got me eating bigtime, and then I couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. I… I didn’t want to say ‘no’ to you.”
It had been a game- teaching an oafish, egocentric Ímigré hound who was really in charge. When had it stopped being that?
“N’ I… I couldn’t wuss out of it because I’d’ve lost you. I couldn’t believe my luck, someone classy like you wanting anything to do with someone like me. I love you so much n’ I was so scared I’d-”
She kissed him. He couldn’t snivel and be kissed at the same time, and she didn’t plan to stop. He didn’t get any say in the matter. She moved her hands to his sides and gently propelled him out of the bathroom, still kissing him. When the backs of his legs bumped against the bed she sat him down. It creaked.
Feather put her arms round Isaac and held the damp dog until the shakes went away. His whiskers tickled her cheek, and his cheek was soft against her neck. She let her hair fall against his head. He whimpered softly.
“I’ll lose it all again, honey. I can, you’ll see. Diet starting now. You won’t be stuck with this blimp for long.”
She began to stroke down his bare back, from shoulder to behind.
“Oh, I don’t think you need to make big promises like that just yet.” She took the plunge. “Isaac? I think you’re a warm, wide, wonderful dog. You’ve no idea how good you look to me.”
He reluctantly pulled away from the embrace and looked at her, radiating bemusement. It made her want to start kissing him again.
“S-still? But I’m a-” she put a finger against his lips.
“More than ever, handsome. You’ve grown into such a Big Dog. My big, sexy mutt.” She smiled at his expression. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
He shook his head mutely, cheeks flushing red beneath their fur. He’d lost so much confidence. Feather found herself grinning wolfishly. She growled:
“Then I guess I’m just going to have to prove how attractive I find you, you gorgeous hound.”
As she said this, she pressed against him, forcing him to lean back. He braced himself uncertainly on his arms. She ran one hand under his chin, ruckling the soft bulge of his nascent double before kissing him tenderly. Her other hand slipped to his rounded side and lightly squeezed, grabbing a plump roll of furry flesh. She felt and heard him make a soft little groan, and his arms quaked. His tail twitched and quivered. My my, her heavy hunk was sensitive.
When she stopped kissing, his eyes were shut, but his ears had perked up considerably.
“Beginning to get the idea?”
He gave her an adorably sheepish grin, and slowly leaned forwards again, pressing against her. She rocked him gently, fondling his chunky sides and stroking between his ears. He liked that.
“I… I bust out of my jeans this morning.” He sounded slightly better, if incredibly chagrined. “I’m too fat for any of it: nothing fits. Not even my new jacket. Boy,” he chuckled shakily, though he still looked ready to burst into tears, “that was a waste of cash, huh?”
She nuzzled him until he was smiling again.
“I’ll buy you some. But first,” she smiled and patted his heavy stomach (receiving a scandalised look) “I’d better measure you to know what size I’m getting.”
* * *
She’d never seen anyone so frightened of a tape-measure. He finally agreed after a few choice words of persuasion (as a shock tactic ‘Grow up!’ had a lot to commend it), but definitely didn’t want to be given any details. One small step for canine onto the scales might as well have been a suggestion that he pop down to the shops in those stylish Emperor’s clothes of his. The dog eventually stood self-consciously in the middle of the bedroom, arms out and legs apart, still just in his underwear.
“You’ve always cut a great figure in a pair of those.” she smiled slyly.
“Don’t.” His cheeks burned red, “Please.”
With another reassuring nuzzle, she got to work. She even refrained from fondling him too much. Inside leg (very ticklish), arm, shoulders, chest, waist (stomach, actually. She took her time with him over that) and hips (what a rump!). In the end she was left with a very impressive set of statistics. They translated into two pairs of jeans, three of the plainest T-shirts she could find and a shirt she’d seen that would look nice on him. It was all she had time for before the shops closed. Having washed his clothes on a number of occasions (why did males always revert to helplessness?), she knew that he’d gone up by about five sizes in one jump. He was more than a little antsy about the whole procedure.
“Hey, these are pretty loose. What, you can run a company but you can’t figure out how to work a tape-measure?” He tugged at the space between his stomach and the front of his new jeans (he still filled them sloppily at the sides).
“If I were you, I’d be careful about banding words like ‘figure’ about for now.” He hung his head, and she regretted the comment instantly. But she didn’t withdraw it.
“Couldn’t you have got me a size smaller?” He was so insecurely worried about how big his waistline appeared to other people.
“It’s growing room.”
She wanted to remember his expression until she was old and grey. Judging by it, none of her high-society scandals held a candle to this one. She handed him a belt. He snatched it and backed away, hurriedly cinching it as tightly as it would go. His sides bulge cutely.
“You…! I…! what…?!” That was the Isaac she knew: incoherent with rage rather than moping around in self-pity. “You’re CRAZY!” he spluttered. The T-shirts were quite loose, too. He began yanking one on- it still had all the shop labels on it. His body jiggled from the violence of the action.
“I think you quite like crazy. Besides, how good are you at dieting again?”
“I’ve never had to before!” He struggled to find which of the three holes were for arms.
“Exactly. I didn’t want to buy you clothes that mightn’t fit in a couple of weeks from now.”
“I’m going to burn all this off!”
“I really don’t want you to, Isaac.”
His furious dressing wound down. He ended up staring at her in silence, his T-shirt on back-to-front.
“Really?” His tone was lost and bewildered, like a small, abandoned puppy. “You really mean that?”
Did he really think this had all been some over-elaborate tease?
“Yes. I really mean that.”
He came over slowly. The new clothes looked nice on him. He made to take her hands, but stopped.
“I… I…” his voice ran out forlornly, and his arms dropped to his sides. “I don’t understand, Feather.”
“Don’t go thinking it’s any easier on this end.” She picked up his hands, and squeezed them. He squeezed back.
“Did… you mean what you said about… about the growing room?”
“I don’t know. It was just something to say.”
He swallowed. He seemed to think he’d decided something significant in his head.
“I will, if you want me to. I’ll get bigger.” He sounded almost pleading. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be.” He ran a plaintive hand through her hair.
Oh, this had become a pretty mess. She tried to straighten out her thoughts. It was hard, with him standing there, with those big, trusting eyes of his, his scent filling her nose.
“I want you to be happy, Isaac. I want us to both be happy.”
“I’m happy when I’m with you.”
Oh, if only he knew how much something like that hurt… She kissed him again. They didn’t stop until the early hours.
* * *
Isaac did end up putting on more weight, quite a lot more weight, though it was pretty much unintentional. He loved eating, and she loved watching him eat. He still went to the gym ‘to keep in some kinda shape’, but no amount of exercise in the world could have stopped it. Besides, most sport seemed to be in something of abeyance as autumn firmly closed in. There wasn’t much for him to do.
His body became something special between them. She would sneak up and slip her arms around him from behind (especially if he was just in his underwear), hefting his (growing) gut in her arms. His back was so warm and good to press against, and his sides would sag against her arms. The doughy dog-flesh in her hands slopped and wobbled with increasing momentum. By the way he wriggled and murred, it made him feel good, too.
She managed to convince him she was serious about wanting a Big Dog like him. It bucked him up no end. He’d lost some (only some) of his infuriating machismo, as though looking less the part meant he didn’t have to keep up the act quite so much. He really was sweet, deep down, and she liked that a lot. He was still body-shy, though, and wanted to go out less than he used to (it meant they spent more time together). He still needed an occasional little confidence boost.
One evening they were together on the sofa (her head on his shirtless belly, his hands running pleasantly through her hair), and his stomach grumbled. It was about half an hour after dinner. She glanced up to find him looking at her wistfully. She rolled her eyes, but smiled.
“Please…” she scratched briefly between his ears as she went past, and was rewarded with a deep, happy growl. All that belly gave the lethargic food-hound added timbre. She managed to produce a submarine sandwich (two-thirds of a French loaf, it was practically an aircraft-carrier sandwich), stuffed with cold chicken in a barbecue sauce. A decent, Native-recipe barbecue sauce (there were specialist shops for the herbs if you knew where to ask) actually designed to make meat taste better over an open flame, though it fried well too. His slow introduction to proper foods and seasoning had met with roaring approval so far.
He shyly asked if she’d feed it to him. Again. She didn’t see why she shouldn’t. It was hard to tear pieces of the sandwich off for him to chew without getting sauce oozing all over her fingers, but he obligingly licked them clean for her. Telly forgotten, he ate more slowly this way. Resting the sandwich down his chest, her free hand rubbed the bloated curve of his belly whilst he chowed down. The free end of his tail (the rest sandwiched between his rump and the cushions) thumped ecstatically against the furniture. He looked blissfully content as over quarter of an hour she encouraged him to devour what would have kept her full for half a day. On top of a big dinner (there was no other kind with him), with seconds of dessert.
He was magnificent.
It stopped the grumbling. She used both hands to caress his bulk. He wriggled down on the sofa so that he was lying flat (he took up a lot of it this way), panting softly. His loud, bass belch took him even more by surprise than it did her. He didn’t even have time to clap his hand over his mouth. That happened after. Eyes bulging, he turned red. She dropped her head on his stomach and tried hard not to crack up. Somehow, he was thrilling.
“Now that was masculine, sexy mutt.” She kissed his stomach, chest, and neck, and nibbled on his second chin, bunched up under his first. He’d outgrown such cute descriptors as ‘plump’ or ‘chubby’, and was now outright fat. He was a seriously Big Dog. She put her arms around him, and squeezed. Grinning, he belched deliberately that time, before wrapping his arms around her and rolling to pin her under his big-bellied bulk. On top of her like that (although breathing would shortly become an issue), he felt so good.
* * *
Feather’s hair was down near the base of her shoulder blades. Not bad for nine and a half months’ growth (but then hair always grew fast in her family. Her father always said that’s why he and her mother had taken each other so young: her hair had already been down to her waist). It was beginning to get unruly (not to mention it took yonks to dry properly), but she was loath to take the traditional approach and plait it (urgh!). She kept it loose but tied back for now, though she didn’t know how long that would last. At least it was cooler at this time of year. The decision could be put off for a little while yet.
Speaking of putting things off…
She sighed and, steeling herself as best she could, picked up the phone and dialled before she could change her mind. She almost hoped that no-one would pick up, or that she’d somehow got a wrong number. No such luck: it was answered quickly.
A few minutes later she prised the receiver away from her ear and massaged it for a moment, then tried to get a word in edgeways. It took all her people-management skills, and would have earned her another promotion if anyone had witnessed it.
“Yes, I know it’s been too long since I called. But before we discuss that, I need your advice. I need to know how to go about cooking a properly romantic home dinner.” She contemplated the rest of her sentence, and grinned at herself in the mirror, “Enough for about five.”
Finally, she’d managed to scandalise her mother. Over the phone, too! Bonus marks for that.
* * *
Almost a year, now. She couldn’t quite believe that they’d lasted like this. Oh, they’d had their moments (read ‘bloody great rows’), but then she always had those (sometimes in the privacy of her own head), and in these circumstances so far at least she had always wanted to make up afterwards. She ran the comb the length of her mane, pleased to find that there weren’t any tangles in it at present (give it time- she was bound to find one). The Saturday afternoon light shone off it (she had to admit, her hair was in very good condition). Even more pleasantly surprising, she realised that she was quite happy to let their little status quo carry on for as long as it lasted. She was happy with what they had. And it was nice to think that Isaac felt pretty much the same way.
She glanced up in the mirror. Isaac was standing a little way behind her- his clothes were getting snug again. She could see the outline of his chest bulging through the T-shirt, and that deep, mysterious bellybutton made a permanent geographical feature. It hugged the ruckles and rolls of his figure where they disappeared under his arms. The sleeves were tight where added weight had swollen his limbs. His belly hung out by about a foot and sagged over his pelvis. His legs had filled out more as well- as well as the way his jeans were filled she knew from rubbing her legs against them in bed. She also knew that he had a lot of backside to handle. Outgrowing XXL’s… he probably hadn’t expected to be doing that a year ago.
She caught sight of his expression, and stopped combing.
“I’ve been thinking. Maybe… maybe it’s time you found someone else.”
At least she’d had his face as some kind of warning. She still hadn’t expected that.
Isaac sighed (making his gut heave).
“We’re not really going to last, are we?” He smiled wanly. “You’re something special, Feather. Real special. You deserve someone like that, too, not me. I mean,” he grinned sadly and wobbled his belly, “why’d you want to put up with a Blob like me forever? You’re gonna want better than that.”
“Boy…” he continued, “…you’re a class apart, even for a Native. You move in the kind of circles I just don’t fit into. Leastwise, not without a crowbar, anymore.”
That sheepish grin again.
“We’ve had some great laughs with one another, and I’m really glad we did this. But… it’s just been such a long time since we got together. We’re gonna get bored of each…”
Throughout all of it, Feather sat like a carved stone. He fumbled into silence. The seconds lengthened, and that smile crumbled into nervous uncertainty.
When she unfroze, her eyes stayed as expressionless as rock. Calmly, she picked up brushing where she’d left off. Her hair swung under the smooth strokes.
“If that’s the way you feel. Perhaps it’s better if you do go now. Yes, you’re right.”
She stood, and treated him to a long, cold look. He looked shocked at how well she was taking it. Had he expected tears?
“I still have things to do today, but I’ll organise getting your stuff removed. You can pick it up in a day or so- I’ll let you know when. In the meantime, I believe you know the way out.”
She resumed brushing before he’d slunk from the room.
* * *
She held the old, decorative knife steadily at head height, and checked that it was sharp. Her image faced her in the bathroom mirror.
So. That was that.
She’d always assumed that, if it came to it, they’d have gone out with an almighty bang. But he’d just… stood there. The break-up had been so reasonable. So mature. She must be getting old.
Why would she have wanted to put up with a blob like him forever?
She’d tied her hair carefully, so that the cut would be even. Maybe she’d give it to him. Something to remember in years to come. In any event, she didn’t have any use for it. She was going to cut it all off- a clean break, back to normal. No pain. Get it over with. Move on.
Why would she have wanted to put up with a blob like him forever?
She’d made the whole thing very easy for him. In her long and memorable history of break-ups, she had always been the one to end them. That was the way to be- do unto others, and make sure you do it to them first. She was damned if she wasn’t going to continue that particular personal tradition until the end. The very bitter end.
She tried to make herself angry with him, something that had occurred naturally with all the other stupid Ímigré males she’d had since coming to this city. It wouldn’t come. Her knife-hand stayed raised in the air.
She’d spent most of her time shocking him, but he’d thrown her a few surprises along the way, too. She really had been expecting a stereotype, to tell the whole, secret truth. But she’d found someone able to fight her back. The struggle had been so refreshing, and she’d still won in the end.
Won, and lost. She’d wanted to fight on the same side as him.
Why would she have wanted to put up with a blob like him forever?
She tried to remember how she enjoyed being free, being single. Deciding how she liked her hair. This was how she was. She was better like this. Better than them.
She was something special…
Words. It had all just been words, in the end. All that stuff he’d said before, she’d thought he meant before, had just been stupid words. And he’d sugar coated that last little speech to make it sound better. He’d just wanted to leave.
He’d wanted to leave her.
She’d always stuck to her rule: never think the L word.
Cut it now. Get it over with. It’s over.
She faced the mirror, and made the mistake of looking herself in the eyes. The view began to go all blurry.
She hadn’t locked the bathroom door. There were heavy footsteps, and she suddenly found herself crushed in a pair of meaty arms. A big, fat stomach in a T-shirt squashed against her, warm and familiar.
Where was her knife? Oh… she’d already dropped it. She was shaking, and couldn’t see through all the tears. Words babbled over her senselessly.
Why would she have wanted to put up with a blob like him forever?
She thumped his chest, suddenly furious.
“Because I love you, you idiot!” A first, huge sob convulsed her. It hurt. “Damn you, damn you, damn you…!”
* * *
Four hours later, he still wouldn’t let go.
“I said I’m fine, Isaac.”
“Nu-uh.” She felt his chins squish as he shook his head. Hers was pressed under his. His chest fur tickled her nostrils. He’d taken his shirt off at some point, and he bulged against her. She liked that.
“You can’t hold onto me forever.”
She sighed theatrically, and squeezed him a little more, feeling his flab roll over her arms. He squeezed back, murring. It was good when he squeezed. She could feel his fingers running softly through her hair.
“I’m so sorry about what I-”
“Don’t start that again.” She generally liked being apologised to, but four hours solid was a bit much.
“I can’t believe I was that dumb.” Squeezing him again didn’t shut him up, it just made him wriggle. “I was scared you… you didn’t want me any more.” Why were males always so chronically insecure? “I wanted to give you the chance to throw me out. I… I didn’t think you’d think I wanted…”
He trailed off, then nuzzled the top of her head. They stayed like that in comfortable silence for a while.
“Good job I came crawling back to beg, huh?” Pretty much. His fingers combed her hair again. “You almost cut all your lovely hair off.”
“I can think of other things I could’ve cut off.” She was beginning to feel more like herself. He chuckled, causing a ripple to slosh through his furry blubber. It made the button on his jeans creak. She tugged on them gently- there wasn’t enough stretch to make space between her finger and his belly. “You’ve put on some weight recently, handsome.”
“Think I’ve been comfort-eating. So worried you might not keep me. Boy,” she felt his head lift slightly in a forlorn sigh before it settled back down on top of hers, “I’m stupid, aren’t I? A big, fat, worthless YEARGH!”
“If you ever call yourself anything like that again I’ll bite you harder. I don’t fall in love with worthless people, understand?” She held on tight. “You mean the world to me, Isaac- don’t you ever forget that. And you can comfort-eat to your heart’s content. I’m not complaining.” She cuddled against him contentedly, nuzzling the nipped part of his rolling chest.
“Mmmmm….” He cuddled back. His jelly-belly cut in with inopportune quaking grumble that was impossible to ignore. He blushed and whined. He’d become very heavy on food bills of late. She smiled, face pressed into his gorgeous gut.
“You never got any dinner, did you, love?” She made to get up, “I’ll go and get something ready.”
“Oh no.” Isaac suddenly murred and tightened his grip on her. “Fat-ass I may be, but I’m still strong enough to-” he stood up with a mighty grunt, carrying her in his arms, some of her weight taken by the belly beneath her. “-carry the girl I love to the kitchen to cook for me.”
“Put me down!”
They were in the bedroom- she hadn’t realised. He kissed her, grinning mischievously.
“Don’t argue with the Big Dog, hon. ‘Specially when he’s Hungry.”
“You…” she couldn’t decide what reaction should come first- hit him, or kiss him right back. Finally, she just smiled wryly, and put her arms around his neck. “Don’t go thinking you can make a habit of this, mutt.” He grinned idiotically.
“I win the arguments around here.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it.” The sumo-hound grinned fatly.
“Just…watch it. Or I’ll make you have a double helping of dessert.” He growled and nuzzled her as he made towards the door.
* * *
He liked his clothes tight-fitting. They showed him off best. When her heft-hound told her that, Feather knew he’d really regained his confidence: feeling Big as well as acting it. He’d swollen further, the T-shirt he was sporting (food stains and all) now stretched out smooth around his chest and gut, with not a wrinkle of free material. He practically overflowed it. The surface tension fighting against gravity gave his girth a wonderful shape. He dominated the oppressed waistband of his jeans, bulgy sides overhanging precipitously and that belly of his just brushing his chunked-up thighs. His double chin was beginning to crease. He still wouldn’t let scales anywhere near him, but she was sure her mutt was massing over 400lbs, maybe even up to 450.
“So who was that on the phone?” he asked as they necked in the middle of the living room, her hands tracing the monumental curves of his bulk.
Damn. So much for distracting him. She sighed, and tugged absently at her workaday plait (temporary only!).
“My parents.” Isaac looked surprised- he’d gathered that things between she and they were more distant than most families. “A dinner invitation. For both of us.”
Isaac’s tail wagged uncertainly, making his rump wobble.
“Is that good?” She shrugged, not telling him that this was the fourth such invite. She knew she shouldn’t have phoned home. But this was pretty inevitable. She didn’t see how it could be avoided any longer.
“I can’t get out of it, but you could probably duck.”
“Hey, you know me, hon: nothing can keep me away from food.” He grinned seductively. “’Specially if your ma can cook anything like you.” They ate at home a lot nowadays- restaurants couldn’t keep up with him.
“Flatterer!” She nuzzled him fondly. “Last chance to back out.” He laughed, quivering in her arms.
“Why would dinner be so bad? I’m good at eating.”
“With a bit of coaching, you might just escape with most of your fur.” She traced the dent between his chubby pectorals. His grin faded when he saw her level expression.
“You have told them about me, right? I’m… kind of a lot to take in all at once.”
She knew that Isaac had lost touch with his family of late, ever since they’d been horrified over how large he was getting, and had issued the ultimatum that he go on a diet or else. She also knew they thought she was a bad influence on him.
“I’ve given them a pretty good indication of your size.” (“He’ll eat you out of house and home, mum!”) “But that’s not what I’m worried about.” She’d told them he wasn’t Arocho, not even Native, straight off. It was safer over the phone. Besides, why lie about it? If there was a problem, it wasn’t on her part. “You think I’m hard about you Ímigré mongrels? I’m peaches and cream compared to Dad. Especially any daring to go out with his only daughter, I expect. He’s very… traditionally minded.”
“You must take after your mother. Can’t wait to meet her.” He saw that she still wasn’t smiling. “This going to be a problem, love?” He was looking serious, now, though he tried to make a joke of it. “I mean, will they throw me out or something? Your dad going to chase me with a tomahawk?”
Leaving the gross stereotyping aside (her dad used a throwing tomahawk, anyway), she realised what was worrying him. She hugged him tight, feeling that stomach sag against her.
“If you think my parents have any kind of say over who I share my life with…”
She felt those big shoulders relax, and smiled over them. You silly, silly dog. She heaved a deep, reluctant breath.
“But I am going to drop in on them before Friday. I guess I’ve got some explaining to do. And I’ll let them know that if they treat you badly they’ll never hear from me again.”
* * *
For once his off-roader had a use. Having bounced along the rough dirt roads to get here (they didn’t want to encourage visitors), it rumbled over the uneven stone roads of her old Reservation hometown. Isaac had even given the car a wash.
The Reservation was exclusive to Natives. Many never left, but the more adventurous (or realistic, as she liked to think of it) mixed it outside of its boundaries. The Tribe was wealthy, but by the dear spirits it could be rustic. Her parent’s fine, low stone and wood house was set back from the road. Warm light spilled from it in the gathering dusk. She could tell he was impressed already. She kissed him on the cheek.
“Just remember, there’s a tradition about being polite to strangers: they can’t do a thing to you. It’s me that’s now in open season.”
They stepped out. Congenitally incapable of appearing tidy (he’d been perpetually scruffy even at the peak of muscularity), he’d trimmed, scrubbed and brushed until he practically shone all over. The new red shirt hugging his belly fitted him well. He looked so good she wanted to tear it off him already. She had her hair loose (length always gave you status, here), but up in a rather rakish twist. He kept giving it that look. With it she wore a simple but elegant dress that had its roots in Native culture but itself was out on a limb.
They reached the door, and she hesitated before knocking. She’d belonged here once. Why ignore convention everywhere but with her family? A quick check in an old woven grass basket around the side (the Arocho equivalent of flowerpots) produced the spare key. Under Isaac’s stunned gaze, she unlocked the front door and swept in with a loud halloo. She’d felt it more advisable than a war cry.
The way to her mother’s heart was through her kitchen. Though there was absolutely no visible sign (as always her mother was faultlessly serene, smiling and polite, her hair in an arm-thick intricate plait down her back), Feather could tell that Isaac won her over when he hopefully asked for fourths. Her cooking had only improved in the intervening years, and he gave the strong impression of never wanting to stop. Even she had a small third helping. It was sealed when Mum saw Isaac’s eyes at the appearance of pudding (her speciality).
It was her father that was proving the serious sticking point. It was always messy whenever they had a clash of wills, and she hadn’t been able to budge him when she’d come round before, despite another Moment. His silence was utter and demoralising. It didn’t help that he had such a good face for disdain: it seemed to be a trait of Arocho males that as they aged their muzzles seemed more beak-like. This was Isaac’s first experience of a real Arocho tribeswolf, Cold Wind Burning- proud, pigtailed, implacable- and he was coming off the worst. She wasn’t sure if her father had said two words all evening. Actually, she was pretty sure that he hadn't said any. He ate sparingly as always, not really looking at anyone but emanating a presence that such a small male had no right to. Her poor dog seemed to shrink under its influence.
She was beginning to think this had been a bad idea. Not even she and her mother together could argue Wind round when he set his mind against something. She could live without his approval but… she’d realised that she’d missed them both. She wanted to be on amicable terms with him, if she could.
Once dessert had been dealt with (Isaac was beamingly served the remainder when everyone else was full), conversation eventually languished. Even Feather’s extensive capabilities at small talk had limits. Her father’s head had turned slightly (but without seeming to do anything as alive as move), and was openly regarding the rotund Ímigré sitting at his table. It wasn’t the most welcoming of looks.
Isaac seemed to feel the need to rise to the challenge. She could see it in his eyes, but was powerless to do a thing to save him. Oh no, don’t, you poor sweet stupid hound, it’s a trap don’t do it don’t do it…
She could practically read his thoughts as he cast around for something to say, then in mild desperation stuck to what he knew best. He smiled glassily at Wind. She shut her eyes, but couldn’t turn off her ears.
“Boy… the Apaches have had a great season, haven’t they…?”
* * *
Feather and her mother sat out on the veranda. It had turned into a lovely night, especially without all the glare of the city. You could see the stars. The spring air was just warming up.
Isaac was leaning on the rails a little way away (they’d complained slightly on first contact, but were built well enough to take the strain), trying not to cough on his Fire-Water and holding an animated conversation with her father next to him.
The way her father’s face had opened like that…
She sipped her own small glass of liquor and exchanged a long-suffering look with her mother. The TV hadn’t been her own for years. It had always been one of Dad’s biggest character flaws, though she hadn’t realised he’d adopted new interests as of late.
Why were all males so ridiculously obsessed by sports?
They were getting along famously, now. Her father had just thrown an arm around Isaac’s beefy shoulders. Replaying their conversation in her head (she could remember it, she’d just avoided listening at the time), Isaac had just assured Wind that he could get hold of a genuine, brand new Apaches jacket by the next time he visited. And, when the next Season started, he’d be more than happy to take him along to a game or two. He was hoping to get season tickets again.
Those food sellers were going to have the nastiest surprise of their lives…
They made it back home by about one in the morning. They didn’t really speak on the journey, just shared the silence. When they got up to her apartment, Isaac turned and locked the door, then sagged weakly against it.
“Did I do good, honey?”
He suddenly found it hard to breathe. Fumbling with his well-loaded shirt buttons, Feather wouldn’t stop kissing him long enough to let him.
* * *
They hadn’t made it to the bed yet. They were just standing holding each other in the cool moonlight, him in nothing but his y-fronts and her with just her hair (scratch one more hairstyle).
“Your folks are great, Feather. I don’t know what you were worried about.” The pressure of her arms forced a small, contented belch from him, “And your Ma’s cooking!” He murred and shifted in her grip. If she wasn’t careful he’d be wanting to go there every week. She’d have to up her culinary game. “But I was wrong…” she glanced up at him quizzically from his flabby chest. He grinned cheekily, “You take after your dad- whoof!” He wheezed as she thumped him on the side. But not too hard.
“I admit we share a… certain expectation of getting our own way. But I think one of us must have mellowed in the last few years.” She shrugged, and relaxed against him. “They’re good parents, but they’re very happy to be… conventional about things. Everything.”
“Is that why you didn’t want to grow your hair? Too much like your mother?” He was gazing down at her, his fingers stroking down through her mane to the small of her back where her hair now hung. She cuddled into his warm, lusciously fat body
“Too much like any of them. It generally means you want to settle down and fit in. You’re getting far too good at reading my mind.” He chuckled, wobbling in her grasp like a small self-contained lake.
“I can sometimes guess what you’re thinking, but I never know what you’re gonna do next, honey.”
“Good. As long as that’s the case…” She smiled to herself.
“You still happy having a Big Dog? Do you still think I look good… all grown up like this?” She looked up at that warm, round face, and tried to guess what he was thinking. She let her finger trace down his bulging gut, and sink into his bellybutton. He gave a little groan of pleasure.
“You’re deeply, maddeningly sexy, fatso. You know I think that, right?” She felt him nod.
“Do you still want me to get bigger? Would you like that?” She held onto his belly, and rocked it softly.
“I’m in love with you whatever size you are. You’ve grown so beautiful for me already…” She nuzzled him. “And I want you to be happy with yourself. It’s entirely your choice, sweethound.”
“Only,” he whined conspiratorially (she was sure he was blushing), “I don’t think I can stop.” He let go of her briefly to poke his sides, making his belly bulge and ripple. “I’m just blowing up: all food tastes so good, ‘n when you’re around I just want to eat and eat…”
“I hope that’s not all you want to do…” she felt him growl happily through his stomach. “Do you want to stop, baby?” She looked into his eyes.
“Hell no,” he squeezed her against his girth, “I feel great, honey. I just… don’t want to be too big for you. I mean, I’m turning into a whale here. Are… are you ok with that, if it happens?”
On an impulse, she squeezed him back hard. He squished.
“Eat as much as you like, Big Dog, if it makes you happy. And if you keep on growing fatter you’ll just be growing better, too. I don’t know how I’m going to stand it- I can’t keep my hands off you as it is, you sexy mutt.”
The soppiest, most tender look came into his eyes. He kissed her on the forehead.
“I don’t ever want to leave you, Feather. I mean that. I don’t even want to have to let you go.”
“You don’t ever have to, gorgeous.” She raised her head and began kissing him back.
“Your parents have a great house. They all looked great. The Reservation’s beautiful.” She had to admit, after all these years it was a sight for sore eyes. “It has everything this dump of a city hasn’t.”
“It doesn’t have the Apaches.”
“Hehe, I guess you’re right. Still, I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to leave that kind of life. Your home.” He pressed his head against her neck and murmured, “But I’m so glad you did, my heart’s almost bursting. Could… we have somewhere like that? Together?”
He held her quietly whilst her mind ran on with that entirely new train of thought. It took a few minutes for the idea to sink in. She looked around her apartment. It was hers: she’d never allowed it to become theirs.
“We could buy a place.” She chuckled, fondling his ears and plump cheeks. “We could even buy somewhere on the Reservation if you want, sweethound.”
He pulled away a little, and stared at her.
“I’m Arocho- I can go back there any time I want. You… you’d have to be allowed to live there. By the Tribe. But someone who gives my dad an Apaches jacket and a season ticket won’t be told no, believe me.”
She could see the hope in his eyes. Then doubts crept behind them too.
“But… what about your job? And…” he sighed, “…you left once because you were bored of it. You’d get bored again.”
She didn’t want him to look disappointed ever again.
“It’s close enough to commute, lover, or I can work via computer. And that can’t work, I’ll find a job that will.” He looked shocked at her vehemence. She kissed him again. “And I’ll never be bored with you there, Isaac. I’m never bored when we’re together.”
Another thought struck her, and she grinned.
“Besides, me returning from the city-life with my huge Ímigré mate? Think of the scandal I can cause!”
Not many Natives who left went back to the Reservation. That place needed livening up.
* * *
They found a place. It was in a picturesque little Reservation town devoid of any of Feather’s close family and far enough away so that she didn’t feel cramped. It was a small (all they could afford) stone and wood bungalow, but it was big enough for just the two of them. She helped Isaac sell his place (and she bargained hard), but they decided to keep her old apartment in case they wanted to slip back to the city for a weekend of partying (or, inevitably, to watch an important game. Isaac’s idea).
It turned out her colleagues at work were so frightened of losing her they let her work remotely most of the time and gave her a promotion.
She was surprised at how refreshing it felt to be back in the kind of culture she’d grown up in but (having got used to the big bad city) for it to all feel so new, as well. Feather found that rumour had preceded her, and notoriety only boosted her social standing. Scandal was its own reward.
Privately, she’d been worried about how well Isaac would be accepted (had gone and asked around before they’d bought, in fact), but he fitted in fast (maybe faster than she did). Their surprisingly open-minded neighbours all found him fascinating, and his appetite worked in his favour- anyone who so obviously enjoyed food that much was apparently ok by them. Almost like a positive superstition. She’d learned something new about her own people. (Besides, within a few months of their arrival word seemed to have spread, and a few other Natives decided to move back home from the big city. It seemed they’d been kept away by the nagging doubt that they wouldn’t fit in any more. They started to cluster in the same town, which began to feel comfortably outré and cosmopolitan to Feather. It livened up considerably).
Some of the local braves who were happy for Isaac to hang out with them dubbed him Huge Moon Belly in Arocho shorthand (until he proudly repeated the phrase to Feather without a clue what it meant. She had a quiet word with various mates and girlfriends, who had word with the braves in question, who instead dubbed him Pale Face. He never noticed the difference). She always thought of him as Big Dog.
She never plaited her hair. She just wore it long and straight, letting it shine and ripple in the sunshine like a dark waterfall. It reached all the way down to her waist (where she decided that enough was enough, and kept it evenly trimmed). A single toss of her head could leave it swaying for minutes. A few other females began trying to match the simple style, but she had been the original (and, her private audience of one said, she carried it off the best). Her hair was, she had to admit, something she became very proud of. Though not quite as proud as Isaac.
“Mmm…” he growled happily one morning, nuzzling the top of her head from behind. “I was right: your hair’s gorgeous.”
She smiled into the mirror, her long comb held aloft (a house-warming present from her mother) but totally unable to continue brushing for the moment because of this loving harassment. He was almost too wide for the mirror.
“So are you, Big Dog, so are you.” She smiled and stepped aside, gently trailing a finger up under this throat and chins. He growled playfully and posed in the mirror, a flabby giant in a pair of y-fronts (she’d disabused him from the notion of a loincloth. Some things were tacky, no matter how good he’d look). They were very tight. He poured out over the front of them, big sagging blubberbelly competing for space against his fat thighs. His gut would win in the end. His backside had swollen into pure, shapely softness now (beginning to crowd his tail out), melding with a couple of big rolls of flab on his wide, wide back. His upper body looked kind of narrow in comparison, with ruckles and folds of flesh marking where his shoulder blades and joints were buried. His chest had grown into a big, plump roll on top of his gut, adding an extra bulge to the upper slopes of his sides, piling onto his now-prominent love handles. Since coming here, good home cooking (they’d been back to her parents for dinner a few times, plus she’d learned a thing or two) had put probably about 50lbs on his frame, though now they didn’t even own a pair of scales. She enjoyed guessing, herself. His body would doubtless find a preferred natural size in the end, but didn’t seem to have reached it yet. They were both happy with that.
His pose sagged, and he grinned at himself in the glass.
“What’s funny, love?” Isaac chuckled and flexed an arm. A large bicep muscle (he still did some workouts) struggled to rise against an increasingly high tide of fat.
“I was just thinking…” He hefted his belly in the mirror, reflectively. “I really can’t remember what I looked like skinny.”
She felt a soft growl rise in her throat. She slipped behind him, and took his belly’s weight. When he let go, it sagged some, spreading over her arms. He moaned softly, sinking down further as his legs wobbled. Her oh-so-excessively Big Dog. She squished against him, smiling past his side into the mirror, pressing her head against his weight.
“Neither can I. Shall we just pretend you’ve always been such a big, fat, sexy hound?” He turned in her grasp, his boundless furry bulk dragging against her arms. He put his arms around her and kissed.
“Fine by me, babe.”
She’d got used to him calling her that.