Story: Busted, With Cheese

All morning I had been hyperaware of the brown bag on the corner of my desk. Small lunch bag, folded over at the top. Very small. Too small to hold anything approximating an actual meal. An American meal, I meant, it wouldn’t be so bad if there was a box in there that was packed to the consistency of a rubber brick with moo goo gai pan or something. Instead I knew there was a sad little sandwich in a plastic baggie, another baggie with 10 carrot sticks, and a can of juice.

The picture of my smiling wife Cassie on my desk was the only thing that kept me from slaughtering all of my coworkers and eating their steaming bodies while waiting for the federal marshals to arrive, although I did have my fantasies. I wasn’t obsessive about it – I didn’t work out any escape routes or anything – but I had never felt so hungry in my entire life. My stomach wasn’t growling, it was roaring its outraged displeasure every few seconds, making conversation with others difficult at best. My head was constantly pounding from my caffeine-withdrawal migraines, and the siren call of the Coke machine nearly drove me mad. I sipped some more water and wondered idly what my secretary would taste like.

My goal was not to lose weight. Cassie assured me, that night we both almost killed ourselves, that the goal was for both of us to become healthy.

It must have been good sex, I remembered thinking. I’m fibrillating.

I let myself fall to the mattress next to her, panting and wheezing like a marathon runner crossing the state line. Cassie rolled over, beautiful breasts and belly slick with sweat rolling just ahead of her, and tenderly touched my face with loving affection and a bit of thinly-veiled medical concern. I imagined the burly paramedics hauling me, stuffed and zippered into a black body bag, down the stairs, chuckling to themselves and hitting on her.

“You okay?” she asked, dangerously breathless herself. For a moment I fought to keep my own incipient heart attack under control so I could listen to her panting. Yep, the paramedics would have to make two trips, poor bastards.

I managed to kiss her on the nose and reassure her I was fine, if only so she could die unconcerned. She rolled back onto her back and we lay next to each other, starfished across the bed, fighting for air. And to think we used to do this in a Chevette.

According to ancient custom, as the one who had finished on top it was my sacred duty to fetch the towel. Somehow it never occurred to us to get one beforehand, as if it would somehow ruin the reckless spontaneity of our regular weekend encounters, and so I got up, creaking, and stumbled on trembling legs to the bathroom. There was a wild man in the mirror, and from the side it looked as though he had swallowed a small child after a fierce struggle. I spared a second to glance at my post-sex appearance, always a crowd-pleaser: slightly receding hairline with wild, sweaty hair, same face I’ve had all my life, thin shoulders, skinny arms, thin chest, small potbelly, slight love handles. I need to get in shape, I told myself, willfully ignoring the fact that I said that every time I passed in front of a mirror. Or climbed stairs. Or walked more than a few blocks. I got a clean towel, dampened it in the sink and shambled back into the bedroom where Cassie still lay, spread-eagled. Long practice enabled me to arc the towel across the room to land squarely on her steaming crotch; equally long practice told her it was coming in time to catch it first.

As she abluted, I sank back down next to her and surreptitiously monitored my heart rate. “This is getting, really annoying,” I said around deep asthmatic breaths. “How can, I be, out of shape, in bed? This is, the only exercise, I ever really liked! It’s aerobic, right? I’m almost 40, I can’t expect to do a million jumping jacks anymore.” I glared at the ceiling, my resolve hardening into an unstoppable force, boiling out of me so fast now that I managed to forget I had never done more than 15 jumping jacks in a row in my life. How did you tell the difference between a heart attack and something milder, like a collapsed lung? Were there definite symptoms for each, or was it something you just knew? I mentally reminded myself to look it up tomorrow if I survived the night. Cassie just nodded, dropped the now-damper towel on top of me, and snuggled up to my side.

“But now this! Sagging pants and high blood pressure is nothing, but now our sex life is being affected! I’ve had alls I can stand and I can’t stands no more! We have to get into shape! Do you hear me? Are you with me?”

“I am. The question is, are you with you? We’ve tried this before, you know. It never lasts any longer than it takes for Wendy’s to come out with a new sandwich.”

While she was talking I lay back where I could relax and still see her. She was beautiful. Dark curly hair, cascading over milky white shoulders and framing her little girl face. She tugged the covers up over her hips and drew them to her chin, but not before I took a long eyeful of the lush curves rising and falling with her breathing. We had met in high school, many years and many pounds ago, but despite the changes of the years I still felt that same hot teenage rush of hormones every time I saw her. She was lovely in my eyes, something she always had trouble believing even in her youth. After decades of patient persistence and subtle hints involving hand gestures and hooting noises, I had finally convinced her that I was being utterly truthful in my lustful appreciation. She still didn’t believe it herself, mind you, as she wasn’t fond of her own looks and absolutely hated the weight she had put on, but she accepted my worship as a useful delusion on my part and let it go.

She looked up at me. “You get so tired all the time, now,” she said. “I’m so afraid I’ll lose you.”

“I love you,” I said, and hugged her tight. We lay like that for an immeasurable time, and I rested easy knowing we still communicated on a shared and intimate mental plane and had said everything that needed to be said.

“Not that I’d mind.”

“Sorry, what?”

“That’s not it at all, you know. I love you and you turn me on like no one else ever has, but if you did lose a bit of weight I wouldn’t mind, is what I’m saying.”

“So I’m a porker, is what you’re saying.”

She sat up fast, causing all sorts of pleasant things to happen to her torso. “No! I mean, I just… Look, there’s no chance I would ever leave you for someone buff and cut. You mean too much to me, we know each other inside and out, and I don’t know anybody as close as we are. Besides, overly-muscled guys gross me out.”

“Couldn’t have been too close, I didn’t see this coming.”

“Yes you did, you just pretended you didn’t. But think how much better… everything… would be, if we were both healthy. Healthy. Not skinny.”

“Good, stick people bore me. Too fragile, can’t roll around on ‘em.” A thought struck me. “Hey, we could do the weird positions again!”

She laughed as we remembered some of the things we had attempted back when we were young, flexible, and stupid. “Well, maybe not all of them.”

“Hell, yes! Standing up in the shower, all that Kama Suitcase stuff, and we never did get around to the backyard swing. We could even try the downstairs closet again!”

“I’d settle for getting your weight off me.”

That stopped me. “I usually try to hold myself up when you need to breathe.”

“I know you do,” she said, and kissed my chest. “But even when you lift yourself all the way up, your weight is still on me, if you see what I mean.”

“Oh. Right.”

She sank back down and I held her, breathing in the sweet smell of her hair. “I know, babe. We’ll do it. I don’t want to lose you, either. Just promise me you won’t go all Kate Moss on me.”

“No problem there. I’m not using Hollywood’s average height and weight chart, it’d kill both of us. Besides, we can’t afford personal trainers and separate cooks.”

“Or all that heroin.”

“Exactly. I just want us both healthy, and we’ll let the rest take care of itself.”

“I love you, you know.”

“I love you too. And that’s good, because we’re going to want to kill each other with steel hammers before this is through.”

Jay’s voice yanked me away from Cassie’s picture and back to stomach-churning reality. “Come on, chief,” he said. “Time for lunch.”

Lunch! I grabbed at my sack to behold the wonders therein.

Cold turkey, which was hideously appropriate. On plain, sliced, whole wheat bread, with lettuce and tomato. No mayonnaise, no mustard, no salt. Or cheese. Or butter. Or caramel and hot fudge, for that matter. I looked at it, waiting for my mind to suddenly readjust itself and perceive the sandwich as wholly satisfying and filling, but that gastric satori seemed very slow in coming. Below my desk and directly behind my belt the Beast roared its disapproval and growled, demanding its customary tribute of starch, sugar, and saturated fats. I sent it the sandwich, silently apologizing to it and begging its forgiveness.

Thad showed up from across the hall and motioned us out, but I waved them both on. “Never mind,” I said. “I ate mine already while he was standing up.”
Jay frowned at me. “Well, okay. But be good, and no wild parties while we’re gone. You remember what happened last time young man.” I gave them both the universal Finger of Brotherhood as they left.

My desk just didn’t look right without a Coke on it. I slumped forward onto my arms and caught up on my newest hobby; Olympic class self-pity followed by stern recriminations and reaffirmed resolutions. The self-pity was easier.

Why is this so hard? All my life I’ve eaten what I wanted, when I wanted. Never a stomach ache or pain, whether it was an extra-large pineapple pizza with sausage and olives at 4:30 a.m. or skipping meals entirely for 36 hours in a row during finals. I was the iron man! And now I can’t keep myself from lasting longer than a hospital drama without wanting to eat a buffet table. What the hell happened?

Age had happened, and that’s the part that cut my legs out from under me and kicked off the massive restructuring program currently underway in my head. Even after all these years of thinking for myself and refusing to let myself fall into clichéd mental ruts or cookie-cutter attitudes, I was smack in the middle of one of the worst ones. No guy ever thinks he’ll change after high school, and in my mind that’s still where I was. I knew, deeper than mere fact, that I was still 130 pounds and could eat anything I could fit in my mouth without ill effect. All this time I had been telling myself I could get back into shape any time I wanted to, and the reality of it was that I was the weakest bastard on the face of the earth. I sighed heavily, for my own benefit, and prepared for the pep talk portion of the program.

“Excuse me?”

I don’t think I jumped, but only because I was weak from hunger. I spun around to see Clara from the mailroom, wearing an uncertain smile and holding a cardboard box of…

Candy bars. Lots of them. The big ones only seen during fund-raising drives for students, scouts and high school football teams. They sang to me, a crescending choir of processed chocolaty goodness, and I ached to answer their sweet, sweet call.

Oblivious to our duet, Clara pushed on in a singsong voice with the attitude of someone who’s been told “no” more times in a single hour than a prostitute with dysentery. “Would you like to buy a candy bar? It’s for the-”

I’m sure it was for something terribly needy but at the moment I felt like a charity case myself. I clutched at my wallet and ripped it open, hurling money at her startled face. “Give me five of the crunch bars,” I pleaded, and I grabbed at them like they were solid gold.

At that moment I would have married Clara without question, in the religion of her choice.

When my buds strolled back in they found me working away, surrounded by piles of paperwork and scribbled graphics designs. “Wow,” Jay said. “You didn’t punch anything this time.”

“And none of the stuffing in the chairs is missing,” added Thad.

“I am a better man, gentlemen,” I said, putting on my imperial face. “I have gazed into the face of the abyss and I have charted my future. No more shall I grovel before you for crusts of bread, not even on spaghetti day. I am master of my domain. I have internalized my diet.”

They appeared skeptical. At least I think that’s what the laughing meant. Nevertheless, I assured them that I was over my grumpiness and was ready to face my diet with fortitude and courage.

And with six huge candy bars stashed in secret spots around the office. Well, five and a half huge candy bars, now.

For the next month this is how it went:

7:00 a.m. Morning jog.
8:00 a.m. Breakfast.
8:35 a.m. Leave for work.
12:00 p.m. Lunch.
5:00 p.m. Leave work.
5:30 p.m. Dinner.
6:30 p.m. A walk around the block, followed by Brief Calisthenics.
7:00 p.m. TV and light conversation.
9:00 p.m. Bed.

Well, that was the schedule tacked on the refrigerator, anyway. The actual schedule was closer to this:

7:00 a.m. Jay shows up to jog, has to drag me out of bed. I fight him.
7:15 a.m. Morning jog-stumble-walk-bitch-jog.
8:10 a.m. Soggy and unpalatable insult to my dignity (Breakfast).
8:45 a.m. Rush to work to make my five-minutes-late deadline.
10:00 a.m. Bathroom break, where I can have a carefully rationed nibble on the candy bar I’ve cached behind the wainscoting.
12:00 p.m. Lunch, sort of. I leave after 15 minutes, having previously established that the sight of others eating threatens to erode my iron-willed self-control. Then run off and gobble some more chocolate off the bar I’ve hidden in the extra paper bin of the copying machine.
12:25 p.m. Helpless bout of self-loathing, followed by period of longing for a magic diet pill that lets you eat steak dipped in butter.
1:30 p.m. Bathroom break, where I quietly sip some of the bottle of Mountain Dew hidden inside the paper towel dispenser in the handicapped stall. I’ve kept close watch; this dispenser runs out every month or so and is left untouched between times. I have an Excel chart of the custodian’s comings and goings made from my careful observations, with allowances made for days off and vacations.
2:00 p.m. Watch other employees congregating outside building, wonder if taking up smoking would be a good way to sneak out of the office more often.
2:30 p.m. Bathroom break. Candy bar. Through an unparalleled dramatic performance I’ve convinced my co-workers that my morning bran is having a powerful and beneficial irrigation effect on my digestive system. They make the expected jokes, of course, but that’s quite all right. My crunch bar loves me.
4:00 p.m. Start feeling hunger pangs associated with dinner, fight to dampen them by sheer force of will alone, since dinner itself certainly won’t do it.
4:20 p.m. Wait until Thad and Jay are looking elsewhere, then bring up spreadsheet showing cubic measurement of remaining candy bars, with time and date estimates on when each will run out, based on current rate of consumption.
4:40 p.m. Panic momentarily when I can’t remember where the last candy bar is hidden, attempt to search around the room without either my searching or uncontrollable hand-shaking is noticed.
4:45 p.m. Suddenly remember where it is (bottom of potted plant), feel overwhelming, near-orgasmic surge of relief, then panic again in case relief was noticed.
4:50 p.m. Actually do some of the stuff I get paid for.
5:00 p.m. Leave for home. Wonder idly if the guys begging for food at the stoplights get a decent return on their invested time.
5:15 p.m. Swing through a fast-food place and grab a large order of fries, or an apple pie, or onion rings, or any damn thing that would help me get through dinner without causing a domestic incident. Reasoning: as long as I didn’t order an entrée, I wasn’t cheating.
5:30 p.m. The abomination we’ve diplomatically agreed to call “Dinner.”
6:30 p.m. A walk around the block.
6:50 p.m. A half-assed attempt at some calisthenics, which ultimately results in ten completed sit-ups and not much else.
7:00 p.m. TV and light bitching.
9:00 p.m. Bed.
9:30 p.m. Refrigerator visit after growling Beast wakes me up, results in angrier Beast since there’s nothing in the house either of us is prepared to accept as food.
10:00 p.m. Raging internal debate over whether or not Cassie would hear the pizza guy drive up.
10:10 p.m. Lay in bed and stare at sleeping wife, remembering how much I love her and how badly I don’t want to disappoint her again.
12:25 a.m. Eat an entire box of raw, low-fat macaroni noodles.
1:30 a.m. Sleep.

I don’t like to brag, but I stuck to that pretty rigidly. I was a rock, I tell you. A rock!

I told myself it would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t also stressed at work, but the truth is I knew I would have snuck snacks with perfect justification no matter what. Look, I was exercising, right? That was the important thing.

Also stuck to the refrigerator was a candid photo of me getting out of the shower. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to scare me or Cassie.

Cassie and I didn’t talk much anymore. We were both fighting silently against our crippling hunger pangs and deep-seated feelings of resentment towards the universe for evolving creatures with addictive predilections concerning processed sugar. We got along fairly well, considering. No fistfights, no late-night police visits. Just a lot of bickering, sniping, barbed comments, bitter recriminations, and no sex, which was a bit ironic since the thought of great sex was what inspired us to do this in the first place. It wasn’t that we were mad at each other, just that we were both miserable and it showed.

At work my candy bars loved me.

Cassie was having a harder time of it than I was, actually. I had support, of a sort, with coworkers all conspiring to keep me thin. That they were failing wasn’t their fault, of course, but I preferred not to dwell on that. Cassie, on the other hand, was a talented artist who worked at home and had no one besides herself to keep her out of the refrigerator. She had taken a few small steps to minimize the dangers, such as removing snacks from the house, refusing to paint still lifes involving food, and installing a lock on the pantry that required two keys to open (I had one), but it was still a battle. We called and instant-messaged each other throughout the day, offering encouragement and black humor about cannibalism. She was stronger than me, I knew that. My own cheating lay at the bottom of my stomach, a lead weight that pulled at my guilt strings. The Beast didn’t care, it was being fed. I told myself that I was tapering off. I could slowly reduce the number of hidden candy bars bit by bit until I really was eating the way I was supposed to, and no one would be the wiser. And in the meantime the local charities would benefit from the astounding amount of revenue they were making this year.

One night we were stretching our walk out to a third block, and were in a celebratory mood. Cassie looked happier than I’d seen her since we started.

“God, it feels good to walk off dinner like this!” she said.

“We walked off dinner before we reached the front door.”

“Ha, ha. Come on, admit it. You feel good. You didn’t complain once about the bean sprouts tonight.”

“I’ve decided to face my lengthy starvation like a man. With style, like Ghandi.”

“Good for you. You look good, you know.”

“Do not. You do, though, I saw gaps in your waistband this morning.” I slid a hand in the back of her pants to prove it and to our mutual surprise, it slipped in easily. She was so amazed that she didn’t jump at me grabbing her ass in broad daylight. I squeezed her warm buttock gently, relishing the contact, before taking my hand back. It was true, she did look better. Neither of us was skinny or anything, but we had both lost over 10 pounds each the first few weeks. She had quickly assured me then that it was normal for new dieters to drop weight quickly, especially if they quit soft drinks, but that it got tougher after that.

“Ken,” she said. “I’m so glad we’re doing this. We really needed to.” I agreed, hugging her and, for the first time in weeks, thinking good thoughts about the night to come. I’ll bet if I play up how much weight she’s lost, I can get her to show me some of her new limberness after we go to bed.

“And I want you to know how proud I am of you.”

“As well you should be. Why?”

“Because I know how tough this has been for you. It’s incredible how you just stopped dead and stuck to the diet, despite all the temptations at work.”

My feet caught on a crack in the sidewalk and I stumbled, which was good because it helped explain my sudden look of terror. Did she know? Was she just cruelly toying with me, or was she feeling me out, trying to get me to slip up? In over 18 years of marriage I’d never felt the urge to cheat on her, but I suddenly knew the Adulterer’s Fear: I’ve been found out, and I was only a few ill-chosen words away from divorce and Maury Povich.

“Yeah,” I stammered. “It’s been rough.”

She hugged my arm. “You’re doing so great! It’s really been an inspiration to me. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve wanted to sneak out of the house and go hog wild at the nearest lunch buffet. It’d be so easy, I could zoom over there and back and no one would ever, ever know. But then I’d think of my poor hubby sitting there at work, starving away, and I’d say ‘Bitch, tough it up!’ and I’d make it through. I could never have done this without your support, and I love you.”

I could feel my soul slipping down into the lowest, dirtiest, public housing section of hell. Outwardly, I smiled at her. “My pleasure.”

“I feel so much better! I’ve got energy again, I feel like doing something besides sleep all day. And the yoga is so cool, I can feel my mind straightening out all its curves and bendy places, and I’ve been sleeping great the last few weeks, and…”

Beside her I walked, a frozen smile of loving support on my face. Inside I cursed myself with every word I could think of, and my stolen bites of chocolate burned in the belly of the Beast.

At work the next day I took my morning bathroom break and sat in the stall, looking at my half-eaten bar of charity chocolate. It was holding up surprisingly well, considering, although the day before I would have eaten it were it covered in motor oil. Now it was a crunchy mistress that threatened to expose me, and the guilty pleasure I got from it was no longer sweet enough to cover the shame I felt at my weakness. Like with many other cheating husbands, the time had come for me to break it off, although I didn’t think too many other husbands regularly flushed their illicit loves. At least I hoped not. I considered saying a few words but decided that was too creepy, so I broke it in three pieces and flushed it.

I stood up and stepped out of the stall with a strange feeling of personal pride and renewed integrity. Then I ducked back in and flushed a few more times until the pieces stayed down.

Fighting my omnivorous impulses and ignoring the howling Beast within, I repeated the procedure with every single stashed sweet and I poured out the hidden sodas. With each flush I felt cleaner, purer. More so than usual, I mean.

I returned from my meager lunch cheerful and focused, and got more work done during the rest of the day than I had the entire previous month. Tonight, I thought, we’re going out to celebrate! The fact that I couldn’t tell her what I was celebrating was beside the point. It also occurred to me that going out to eat to celebrate things was part of what brought us to this point, since we enjoyed it so much we just expanded the definition of “special event” over the years to include holidays from even the smallest religion, good weather, and, finally, weekdays. But now I was charged with restricted diet energy and personal affirmation, and so I dug through the yellow pages and online directories until I found the best health food restaurant in town. We could eat out and still stay within our guidelines, vague though they were. We could have fun again!

I called and made reservations, and then ICQed Cassie at home to tell her to keep her evening open. Thad and Jay both looked at me funny all afternoon, and it took awhile for me to figure out what was up. Something had happened for the first time since the diet began: I was in a good mood. No one knew about my personal heroism but me, but if anything that made it more heroic. I was drunk with the heady joys of self-denial.

During the drive home I found myself singing along with the radio. Even unusually annoying traffic couldn’t dent my new enthusiasm. Life was good! I was strong! I was finally ready to live up to the example Cassie thought I was! I was… I was hungry as hell, that’s what I was, but I stolidly ignored it. The love of my life needed me, and I could disappoint her no longer. The fact that she didn’t know she had been disappointed was immaterial.

It finally came to me that I had been stuck behind a truck for 15 minutes now, and cars were backed up on either side of me. I had one more light to make before I could turn off into less crowded side streets, and it was starting to look as if it was an unattainable dream. The dinner reservation was only an hour away, and there was no way in hell I was going to let a bunch of feather-footed old fogey drivers block my way. A few blocks away on the right there was a McDonalds, and I knew from long familiarity that its parking lot touched the side street I needed. A plan was formed.

Keeping a close eye on the oncoming traffic, I saw my chance and surged forward into the right hand lane, nearly causing a wreck and forcing a bicyclist to jump a curb. I bumped over the sidewalk into the MickeyD’s lot and pulled around the drive-thru area to get to the other exit, manfully ignoring the powerfully intoxicating scent of frying meat and animal fat that billowed out of the roof. Ronald McDonald has me in his chains no longer! Begone, foul and fattening clown, I swore to myself. Your tempting treats and succulent sandwiches shall bewitch me nevermore! I swear it on my lady’s honor! Thinking these and other uplifting thoughts, I drove quickly around the building to the back, where Cassie was just coming out.

If I had kept driving she’d never have noticed me and we could have kept our lies going forever, but I reacted without thinking and slammed on the brakes, squealing loud enough to be heard from miles away. She looked up and screamed, dropping her bag of food and jumping back.

There was a long moment where I just stared at her and she just stood there, breathing hard and looking as if she didn’t know which way to jump to avoid the oncoming truck.

“Cassie?” I said, getting out of the car. “Are you okay?”

She still didn’t know which way to jump, but she resolved it by bursting into tears. “No! No, I’m terrible! I’m a horrible person!” I took her in my arms and she clutched at me like I was hanging from a rescue helicopter. “Oh, God, Ken, I’m so sorry!”

I hate to admit it, even now, but my first reaction was anger. How dare she cheat on me like this? Does she have any idea what I’ve gone through? Fortunately the silliness of this passed quickly, and I just held her and stroked her hair until she calmed down.

“Do you hate me?” she asked into my armpit.

“No! No, baby, no. I love you. I’ll always love you.” She hugged me tighter. “Did you bring me anything?”

Cassie snorted a laugh, then backed up a step and punched me on the shoulder. “Yeah,” she said, pointing to the food spilled across the tarmac. “That was yours.”

“Oh, honey, you got me the extra large fries. You do love me!” And we joined hands and danced a merry jig around the pile for two or three spins before her bravado wore off and she started crying again. I motioned that she should wait, and I parked the car, came back and took her arm, and escorted her back inside.

“What are you doing?”

“We need to talk, this is the nearest place. Try not to lick anything.”

We found a booth in the back and sat down across from each other. It was fairly secluded there, but the sounds and smells reached us just fine. Grease was most definitely the word. She was visibly twitching from the pull of it. I patted her hand and walked up to the counter, past her disbelieving (and disappointed?) eyes.

By the time I came back with a tray she had cleaned up a bit, but she was still sniffling. “You bought French fries?”

“A small bag. With no salt. And a cup of ice water. And you have to share them with me. So,” I said, reaching for the first one. “How long have you been munching on the side?” Stiff, barely warm, and saltless, it was the best French fry I had ever eaten.

She looked down into her lap. “About a month.”

“A lot?”

“No! Not really. Not much.” She bit her lip. “Define ‘a lot’.”

“More than you think you should?”

“I shouldn’t at all! I’m a total bitch, yelling at you to diet when I can’t do it myself, I’m so sorry…”

“Eat a French fry.”

“No! And you shouldn’t eat them either! You’ve been so good so far, I don’t want to be the person that screwed it up. God, I feel so-”

“Cassie, I have been sneaking food since the first week we started.”

There was a long pause while she fit this into her self-hate cycle, which ground to a halt in confusion. “You what?”

“I haven’t stuck to the diet either. Not completely. I’ve been sneaking around on you.”

“I… I’m not sure how I feel about this,” she said, and reached for the fries.

“This is the first time we’ve ever hidden anything from each other, as far as I know, so let’s stop it right now. I’ve bought 137 charity candy bars and eaten them at work. How about you?”

That got a laugh, and a wry smile. “Let’s just say I’ve improved the local economy in the fast food district.”

“Not good enough, missy. Two weeks ago I left work twenty minutes early, bought a large pizza on the way home, and ate the whole thing sitting in the car behind the Winn Dixie.”

“You creep! Which night?”

“Barley soup night.”

“Ha! I had KFC, a bucketful.”

What about tofuburger night?”

“Um, Arby’s started their Arby-Q promotion again. You?”

“Subway. But I didn’t get mayonnaise, so it didn’t count.”

“Uh huh. Neither did my Arby-Q, I only used one napkin.”

“Napkins are high calorie?”

“No, but if it only took me one napkin to clean up I must not have enjoyed it very much. You’ve seen me eat.”

“Well, the box of donuts I ate last night didn’t count because I was standing up. Food you eat while standing up doesn’t count.”

We were both laughing now, and talking faster. Amazingly enough we had only eaten half the bag of fries. The day before I would have been ready to fight her bare knuckle for them.

“Where did you stash yours?”

“Bathroom. And the copier machine, and the filing cabinet nobody uses, and an emergency Snickers in the ceiling panel over my desk. Damn, I forgot to trash that one.”

“The rats will appreciate it.”

“Where’s yours? Not the kitchen, I tore that place apart.”

She laughed gleefully and leaned forward with shining eyes. “You wanna see?”

We burst into the house like kids on Christmas morning. Or maybe Easter would be more appropriate, since we were on a hunt. Cassie dashed over to the china hutch, knelt and reached way up inside, and produced a bag of Fritos. Party size. She made a mock look of surprise and giggled.

I lunged forward to tickle her for her crimes, but she leaped out of the way and ducked past me to the hall closet. She threw the door open and dove inside. A shower of coats and sweaters cascaded out before she emerged, breathless and proud and holding a box full of powdered sugar donuts, which she shoved into my hands. It was followed by bags of Cheetos and Nestles minis. By the time I set them down on the carpet she was gone again, shrieking. I was beginning to feel like a rank amateur.

Her whoops were coming from the guest bedroom. I pounded after her in time to see her standing on the dresser, stretching to reach over the glass of the ceiling light and bring out a large bag of M&Ms, which she threw at me. I ducked; she jumped from the dresser to the bed and bounced high, scrambling over to the nightstand. I landed on top of her like an affectionate linebacker but not before she thrust her arm behind the bed and brought out a Tupperware container crammed full of Rice Krispie Squares. For the first time I was upset.

“You bitch! Gimme those!”

She just laughed and rolled off the bed, motioning for me to hurry up and join her. I dropped the sticky treats and shoved myself off just as she lifted the entire mattress to display, with a flourish, enough snacks to stock a convenience store, all carefully arranged for protection and easy access. I couldn’t believe it; I just stood there and goggled. Candy bars, bags of peanuts, bags of potato chips (crushed but still perfectly edible), beef jerky, loose gumballs everywhere, it was incredible. There were paperback books arranged in a tight grid to keep the mattress from crushing the food; clearly some thought had gone into this. I felt like a guy guilty of sleeping with another woman who finds his wife has been getting cuddly with the local sports team. Although I wasn’t angry at all. Admiring, and a bit in awe.

I turned towards her, hands open wide in approved monster movie fashion, and took a step forward. She backed up against the nightstand, holding her stomach with one hand and holding the other towards me to fend me off. We were both laughing hysterically. I dodged around her arm and grabbed, falling backwards onto the bed with her in my arms. Food bounced wildly as we hit and rolled, kissing passionately. I sank my teeth into her neck (gently) and thrilled to hear her moan and pull at my shoulders. My hands swept down her body, remembering again the soft curves and warm scents. She yanked my shirt open and feasted on my chest hair. I scattered potato chips across her body and devoured them, and her, like a ravenous beast (which was, more or less, the case). She undid my pants and sprinkled the entire contents of a large pixie straw over me, and things got weird after that.

Making love on a bed covered in prepackaged snacks was a new experience for me, and one I recommend. For one thing, our pounding caused everything on the bed to bounce in rhythm, which added a hilarious “inside the popcorn popper” environment, especially after the M&M bag broke open. At one point we regained enough awareness to time our thrusts, trying to get a can of Pringles to spring off the mattress. It took a while, thankfully, and we watched with all the fascinated interest of the true sports fan as it skittered on the edge before finally launching itself on a particularly vigorous bounce from Cassie.

Any other time we had, for whatever reason, gone without sex for more than a few weeks, we would have reconnected with urgent need and passion for five, ten minutes, tops, at least the first time. This time was different, and we were healing more than just built-up horniness. We affirmed each other. Hell, we affirmed each other’s brains out, especially after I used Twizzlers to tie her wrists to the bedposts and committed unspeakable acts to her with a handful of Slim Jims.

This time she got up to get the towel, shaking off bits of stretched and broken Twizzler and displaying little Tootsie Rolls stuck to her behind. She called to me from the guest bathroom, and pulled the towels aside in the cabinet to reveal a 10 gallon Igloo cooler that I was prepared to wager was full of sweet tea. Oh, the shame, she was a secret drinker too! She whapped me in the face with the towel and leaped back on the bed in a shower of gumballs.

We lay there, surrounded by billions of calories, and two things occurred to me. One, we were literally covered in food, and we hadn’t eaten any of it. I didn’t even feel hungry just then.

And two, while we were both breathing hard, we weren’t gasping or displaying signs of cyanosis bright enough to be seen across the street like usual. Be damned, it was actually working, despite our worst efforts. I hugged her joyously, and we rolled back and forth, kissing each other, for the rest of the night.

The next morning, when Jay came in to roust me out of bed, we were still there, wrapped around each other and asleep and blissfully unaware we were half-coated in melted milk chocolate.

“Damn,” he said, startling us awake. “You guys are seriously weird.”

Cassie shrieked and grabbed two double-size bags of Munchos to cover herself. I just got up, stretched, and smiled at him. “Ready when you are,” I said. “Only you better let me shower first.”

“I was gonna ask you politely if you would.”

I padded off to the bathroom, but I stopped at the doorway and turned back to him. “Jay?”


“What do you know about our company’s YMCA program?”

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