Chapter 1 - macaroniThe other gainers were astounded the next day when I refused to let Charlie eat what he wanted of the meals that were delivered; I portioned them out myself instead. I divided each one onto four plates, a little bit of everything on each plate, and let him eat only one every half hour or so. The first morning, he complained loudly and obnoxiously that he was still hungry and demanded that I give him the rest, but I refused, and didn't let him into the refrigerator or the cupboards, either.
"What are you doing?" he asked, half outraged, half bewildered.
"Go watch TV," I told him. "Come back in half an hour."
Muttering, he went away and was back promptly when I'd said he could be. Smiling, I handed him the second plate of breakfast. He ate it all. Pleased, but trying not to show it too vividly, I cleared his dish and said, glancing at the clock, "All right, you can have the rest at ten o'clock."
At ten o'clock, I served him the third portion, and he finished it. This was working.
At eleven o'clock, he was back without having to be told, asking, "Can I have the rest now, please?"
I gave it to him. He plunked down at the table and dug in to the oatmeal, drenched in honey; the eggs vanished; the glistening bacon went a little more slowly, and the large jelly roll, which I'd saved for last, was consumed calmly but unhesitatingly. In another two hours, it would be lunchtime, but I didn't intend to let him wait that long. "Eleven forty-five," I told him, "you can have the rest."
"There's more?" He looked mildly surprised.
I raised my eyebrows. "Unless you don't want it."
He shrugged. "I'm not that hungry."
At twelve fifteen, he was back, glancing around nonchalantly as if he weren't here because of me, and I was ready for him. I had a cinnamon bun drizzled in sticky white frosting and a largish piece of pound cake waiting for him, plus a sliced apple, which I'd taken the liberty of dipping in a bowl of caramel. I gave those things to him and also the rest of the caramel in the bowl. He was surprised and said, "I don't remember the others eating this."
"You weren't watching very closely, were you?" I bluffed.
He shrugged. "The apples look all right."
"The caramel was my idea. I hope you don't mind."
He smirked. "No, no, not at all." It was sarcasm, but he ate the apples first and surreptitiously, when he thought I wasn't watching, ran his finger around the inside of the bowl, inserting a drooling glob of caramel straight into his mouth. He liked caramel. I would have to remember that.
He ate only part of the cinnamon roll before biting into the pound cake, and each of the bites he took of that lasted him a good twenty or thirty seconds of chewing, as if he were filling up. Before either of the two pastries was finished he sighed, pushed back his plate, and said, "I'm done."
I affected dissatisfaction. "What? But you didn't finish."
"Still done," he said.
I almost overdid it, leaning over him with my hands bracing me on the table and wheedling, "But aren't you still hungry? Doesn't that soft, chewy cake look good?"
He snorted and laced his hands behind his head. "Nope. I'm done. Growl all you like, dogboy, but I'm not eating any more."
I pretended to grimace. "Fine. But don't come back out here expecting anything else until lunchtime."
"Oh, I won't."
I did exactly the same thing with his lunch, only this time, I told him, "New rule. You have to finish the previous meal before you can start the next one." I set his unfinished cake and roll in front of him while the others fed ravenously.
"How come? That's so unfair," he complained.
"It's my new rule. You can take it or leave it, but I'm not giving you your burger until you finish that."
Griping incessantly, he finished his post-breakfast snack and accepted the half of his hamburger that I was willing to give him, but only ate part of it.
"You can take as long as you want to eat it. I'm not going to give you anything else until it's gone."
This went on all afternoon. When he'd finished the first part of the hamburger, I told him he had to wait half an hour for the next part. He worried me a bit by waiting a full hour instead. To combat that happening again, I made sure he saw me removing another small bowl of caramel from his plate before giving it to him. He finished the burger. I said wait another hour. He disappeared into his room. He was back in thirty-five minutes, and I had carefully moved the other three into the TV room, ferrying dishes back and forth for them while they watched television, so that I was gone from the dining room for long stretches of time and couldn't be said to have a particularly close watch on the rest of his food, sitting covered on the counter. I heard him moving around and sat myself down next to Jill to poke her plump side, grinning, watching her blush and giggle and pop another bonbon in her mouth. I waited.
After five minutes I judged it time and stood up to return to the kitchen, bringing the stack of Luke's emptied plates as an excuse. I moved soundlessly and had crossed half the distance between us before Charlie jerked away from the counter, startled, licking a trail of caramel off his lips.
I had prepared my reaction. Stern, but not overly mad, I said, "Go back to your room. You have another twenty minutes to wait."
He frowned and said, "You can't tell me I'm not allowed to eat." Instead of obeying, he grabbed the bowl bearing a double serving of yellow macaroni and cheese, which I hadn't had time to portion off yet, and started backing away--daring me to try to take it from him. I set down my stack and stepped forward menacingly. Defiantly, he scooped out a mouthful and ate it, chewing dramatically. Then, before I'd even had a chance to further my act, he froze with the next spoonful halfway to his still-full mouth, and I saw his eyes widen.
He swallowed. "You bastard," he said in surprise. His eyes fell to the mass of cheese and pasta on his spoon. Startled, he dropped the spoon clattering into his bowl, and I moved forward quickly to preempt whatever he might do next. Seeing me coming, he tried to put the bowl back where it had been on the counter, but I herded him into the corner between the fridge and the sink and he had to back up instead. I spoke before he could.
"If you're hungry," I said, "just eat it. You won't gain weight from eating when you're hungry. Only when you're not hungry."
"I--" He looked down at the bowl and then tried to set it on the narrow ledge of counter behind him, but I caught his wrist and stopped him.
"The only thing worse than not gaining weight," I said, "is losing it. If you don't eat what you want to eat, you'll lose weight, and we both'll be in a lot of trouble."
"I'm not hungry, though," he argued, getting some of his self-possession back in his voice.
"Why did you come out here, then?"
Again he hesitated, and I held my breath, watching him consider the macaroni and cheese. Then he said, "Because you tricked me."
"How did I trick you?"
"Reverse psychology," he sneered. "I know what it is."
"All I did," I said, "was make you slow down and not fill yourself up right away at each meal. You know that isn't the most healthy way to eat anyway. If you want, wait another half an hour before eating the macaroni and cheese." I backed off like I didn't care. "But don't wait any longer than that or you'll have to wait until dinner." It was almost three o'clock. Now was usually the time when I pulled the food away from my charges to give them a while to digest so that they would be hungry enough to gorge themselves all over again at dinnertime.
Turning away, I picked up the dishes I'd brought and put them in the dishwasher, then went back to start collecting whatever hadn't been eaten from the three in the TV room. Luke, who kept track of the time as carefully as I did, was hunched over his cheesecake trying to finish it all before I got back. I sat down next to him and said, "Finish your bite and give me the rest, Luke."
He gripped his fork tighter. "Please? Just let me finish it. I'm almost done." He had half left to go. For Luke, that was almost done. He was such a greedy little piggy. I smiled indulgently and patted his bloated belly.
"If you insist. You're going to be the biggest of any of you very, very soon." Even before I'd finished speaking, he had crammed another bite into his mouth. I went over to Jill. "Finished with that?"
She rushed one last bite and handed me back her brownies. I looked at the fattest woman.
She sighed. "All right, go ahead. Can you warm it up later for me though?"
"Of course. I'd be delighted." I took away the chicken pot pie she had broken into (Stacy preferred salt and fat to sugar, I'd found) and cleared the coffee table of everything except the handful of unopened cans of soda I'd provided them with. When I turned around, Charlie was leaning in the doorway, eating his macaroni and cheese, watching with a mixed expression of contempt and contemplation. I smiled as I passed him. He followed me.
6 chapters, created 11 years
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