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Maisy Pinkerton was rueing how tough her day would be. It was seven o’clock in the morning, and she took advantage of the lull in custom at the beef hot dog stand to talk to Bethany, who was manning the grill behind her. They wouldn’t get a chance later on. It was the day of the big race, and the place would be packed to the rafters. “See? Look at that. Look at that fat.” Maisy cursed the little roll of pudge that had appeared from her reliance on the meaty stock as her lunch, and sometimes her dinner, as she compared bellies with her best friend. “I don’t want to show up for spring break with a rubber ring.” she lamented. “You won’t,” Bethany assured her, laughing as she let her shirt drift down. “It’s a month away – you’d have to eat so many hot dogs.” “Doubt it – I think my metabolism’s packing up on me. I can’t shift any of this.” Maisy fingered her friendship bracelet and jumped. Her belly button quivered a little. She grit her teeth. “Don’t panic,” Bethany said. “Panic makes you stress. Stress makes you fat.” “And fat makes me panic…ughh…” Maisy pulled down her shirt. “Face it, you’re gonna have to roll me to Panama City.” “Hey, I’m still heavier than you, don’t forget.” “Yeah, but you’re three inches taller.” Maisy was fairly tall herself for a girl, at five foot eight, belied by the rush of wavy blonde hair that flowed half way down her back. But at five foot eleven, Beth towered a head over most of the rest of the girls in their cheer squad at college. “Stop worrying. You’re still going to be the flyer when we get back to practice,” said Beth. She wrapped Maisy in a hug and lifted her off her feet. “See. You’re not heavy. You’re a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet.” “A hundred and thirty-five.” Maisy said lowly as she was squeezed. Those five pounds had crept on to her from three weeks ago. She was fearful of what the future would bring. She did not soon expect to be fearing for her life. “Oooh. Customer!” said Bethany. “Look alive.” Maisy turned with a prizewinning smile to the stocky man on the other side of the counter. She immediately recognised him as one of the drivers. “Two please, m’lady.” he garbled through his helmet. He slapped down a twenty dollar note. Beth went to work at the grill behind her. “Lotta sauce,” he called. “I like ‘em sloppy.” He turned his back, stuck a finger through his visor, scratched his greasy nose, then pushed something up against his ear. “Y’ello? Can’t hear ya, buddy. Speak up.” Maisy ducked beneath the counter for some napkins. “Are you alone?” she heard a voice say. Above her, the driver looked over his shoulder. “Uh-huh. Oh, howdy Marco…yeah, yeah, we’ve got it covered. Framed, fixed, rigged, ready to go.” “Excellent. The room’s clear. The rest is up to you.” “Yee-haw, whatever. When do I get my money?” There was a buzz of static, then a pause on the line. “When you win, Mick.” the Italian-flecked voice said quietly. “When you win.” Maisy paused as her hand found the napkins. She stood up slowly and received the hotdogs from Beth. Mick looked in the eye as he held a hand out for his snack, before she’d even put the sauce on. “Thanks darlin’.’” he mumbled. “You’re welcome.” she said, quietly. He broke his stare first as he turned to walk away. Maisy stared at his purple and green striped racing suit as he strode across the food court, his paces wide and fast. “Could you mind the counter a minute?” Maisy asked Beth. “I’m gonna go check something out.” “What?” “That guy.” “Slick Mick Ovett? Seriously? You’ve just turned twenty. He’s like, forty. And greasy and….eeeww.” “Not like that…” she muttered. “I think he’s up to something. Wait here.” Maisy pushed her hands down on the counter and vaulted over in a flash, landing with barely a tap on her tiptoes. She tailed Mick quietly, out of the food court and around to the garages. He crammed his first hot dog in through the gap in his helmet, then dropped the napkin on the floor. He looked over his shoulder. Maisy froze in her step, then in a move from something she’d seen on TV, she bent down and pretended to retie her shoelace. Mick paid no notice to her. He carried on walking to the garages, approaching the open bonnet of a stock car. Maisy hid behind the corner of a wall. He said something to the voice inside his helmet. Maisy presumed the red and white car with the number 50 was his as he leaned in and tinkered around the engine. Then he reached deep inside, rattled his gloved hand, and ripped out a wire. Maisy heard herself gulp. Something was definitely wrong. Mick looked over his shoulder again, then carried on walking. Maisy fished her phone out of her pocket, unlocked it, and opened the camera. She pointed it at him as he carried on walking. He approached another car – the number 10 – and brushed past it, nipping a back tire with his boot. Maisy heard a hiss as it deflated, capturing the whole moment on video. She guessed there was a metal edge along his shoes. Mick finished off the last of his second hotdog, then threw the waste in a trash can, along with the oily wire. When he was a safe distance away, Maisy pelted over to the trash can and held her phone over the bag. Mick strode over to the number 12. Maisy whipped her phone back around. There was someone working on the car, tinkering on a slider under the chassis. She half expected Mick to throw a cold-clocker when she watched him put a boot on the wooden board and pull the mechanic back, but instead they bumped fists. Mick stroked a greasy hand over the roof as they chatted to each other. It looked like that car was his. Maisy committed the number to memory. The oily driver laughed as he held out a hand and helped his crewmate to their feet. She was a full-figured woman. Her brown hair was tied in a messy bun, with the flyaways held back by her thick-rimmed glasses. Maisy watched her flip a wrench in the air and catch it, then plant a foot on the slider and skate to another stock car. Deftly for a girl of her size, she crouched down, put her back on the board and slid perfectly through the gap between the tires with a wide smile. There was a clang as the wrench made contact with something underneath the chassis. Slick Mick guffawed. Maisy closed her phone. She had all the evidence she needed to prove that Mick and his team were manipulating the Daytona 500. She bit her lip as she saw her phone’s charge was just 2%. She knew if it ran out before she could let the cops see it, she’d have to go home to charge it up. She wouldn’t have enough time to get them to stop Mick racing. On instinct she stepped out from behind the trash can. Maisy didn’t know much about cars, but she knew they were easily broken. She tiptoed on her skinny feet to the number 12 and dipped her hands inside the open bonnet, feeling around for the wire Mick ripped from the 50. She reckoned it’d buy her time, and give him a taste of his own medicine. Maisy found a wire, wrapped her fingers around it and pulled. It came out with surprising ease. But in her haste, her friendship bracelet rattled along the engine coolant reservoir. “What in tarnation?” Slick Mick wrenched off his helmet and stared at her. Maisy looked back, the wire curling in her hand. Her face was a mask. Mick dropped his helmet, reached into his pocket and with an infuriated sneer, he drew a pistol from inside his racing leathers. Maisy screamed. The dirty driver fired straight from the hip. The bullet flew over Maisy’s shoulder, ricocheted off the bonnet and sunk into the engine. Mick swore viciously and fired again. Maisy ducked as the second bullet bounced off the windscreen. She ran, her loose blonde hair flapping out behind her. A third bullet zipped past her feet. The pit crewmate scrabbled to get out from under the other car. Mick snarled and took off running while she screamed for him to stop. He still had four bullets left. He fired again as Maisy escaped the garages, and missed by inches. Maisy sprinted out into the open air, running for the stands of the Daytona International Speedway. It was hours before the 500 would start, so the waves of seats were empty. She didn’t know where to go. She didn’t know what to do. She kept running. She crossed the track, slid through the metal wires of the catch nets, leapt a barrier on the stands and charged up the steps to the thirtieth row. She jumped over another barrier and pumped her sinewy legs past Row 36. She turned to see if he was following her. Suddenly, Maisy lost her footing. Her ankle twisted awkwardly half-way up a step, and she tumbled backwards. Her head reeled as it collided with the concrete, and she screamed in agony as she fell head over heels, her twisted ankle thumping on a step edge once, then twice. She landed on top of it as she came to a halt at the bottom of the section, moaning in pain. A medic heard her cries and dashed out from her station in the stands to collect her. Maisy was crying. The medic administered a painkiller then radioed in for more help. Her ankle was fixed in place with splints, and two guys helped bear her into a stretcher. Maisy was taken to an ambulance waiting in the car park outside. She tried to look up from her reclined position just as she left the stands. Slick Mick was nowhere to be seen. Maisy was driven to the Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center. She recovered from the shock, but the doctors informed her breaks in her ankle would take far longer to fix, since they were in two places. She was given a local anaesthetic and the broken bone fragments were realigned. Her leg was immobilised for the rest of the night, through to the following morning. It ached a lot after she woke up. News of her tumble got around fast. Bethany was her first visitor – she brought a giant bag of M&Ms, and they shared them as she filled her in on what had happened. Mick Ovett did not race – he had been found and arrested for reckless endangerment with a firearm. Maisy wanted him in the dock for attempted murder too, and game-fixing, and damage to property, but Beth said there’d be no need – the local police chief had assured her that from that and his past offences, he’d likely be jailed for a very long time. The chief himself was the next of her visitors. He took off his hat, revealing a balding head and introduced himself as Kevin Kint. He made to light a cigar, until one of the nurses reminded him that he was in a hospital. He smiled and put it away. “Might I request we be left alone together?” he asked them both. “Maisy and I have important matters to discuss.” They murmured their acquiescence and left the room. Kint immediately rekindled his cigar. “Maisy Pinkerton,” he said, shaking her hand through a gentle puff of smoke. “It’s a pleasure. I understand you’ve been through a great deal very recently. There may be things that you might not wish to discuss. But it’s vital at this stage that you let the police know everything that you remember about what happened that day.” “The first thing we need to know is, were there any other witnesses to the event?” Maisy thought back. “There was nobody with me,” she said. Her concussion had hazed her up memory. “Not after I started following him. There was a woman who saw it, a mechanic in his pit crew.” She gave him a physical description, noting the hair, glasses, the shape of her body. Kint took it all in, and nodded. “Did you acquire any evidence from the scene of the incident?” “I had a video on my phone…ughh…I wish I could show it to you. I smashed it when I fell down those stairs.” “I see.” said Kint. “That’s unfortunate. Was there anything else?” “There was this wire he ripped out of somebody’s car. It had these two plasticky parts on the ends.” “A spark plug wire,” Kint nodded. “What happened to it?” “He threw it in a trash can by the garages – I don’t think it’ll be there now. Someone will have taken out all the trash after the race yesterday.” “Yes. A pity. So that’s all there was?” “That’s all I can think of. There’s just what I saw…and what I heard. Mick was getting messages from a guy through the radio in his helmet. I think he was telling him what to do. Who to sabotage.” Kint pursed his lips. He took a long puff on his cigar. Then he took a seat, and sighed. “That’s the main thing I’ve come to talk to you about, Maisy. We’ve reason to believe that Mick Ovett was in contact with a criminal organisation. A crime family, known as the Trafficones, led by a man known as the Commissioner. They have rogue business interests all over Florida, and plenty around Daytona. Because of what’s happened, and because of your involvement…we think you’re now in terrible danger.” Maisy’s face paled. “What are they going to do to me?” she asked. “That’s dependent on whether they find you,” Kint answered. “And I promise, they won’t find you if you enter our witness protection service. It would mean changing your name, changing your address and moving into a safe house, but the benefit’s right there. You’ll be kept safe, Maisy, for as long as it takes until the danger goes away. Then we’ll take you straight home.” He reached down, pulled up a briefcase and opened it up. “We’ve already done a lot of work to establish your new identity. Your name will be Hannah Selles. You’ll live in Eldora – it’s a little town not far from here. There is a lady there who hosts lodgers, and who’ll be happy to have you around as long as you’re happy there. You’ll be able to keep up with your classes at UCF. But you won’t be able to come back here until we’re resolutely sure that the threat to your life is gone. Do you understand?” “Yes.” Maisy said. “And whatever happens, whatever you say or do, you must not talk about what happened to you before the race. You never know who might be listening. Got that?” “Got it.” said Maisy. “Excellent,” said Kint. “I’ll be back to collect you when your ankle’s healed up. If you need me, or you think you’re in trouble, call 911. We’ll do whatever it takes.” The police installed a guard outside Maisy’s room to monitor her visitors. He wore thick black glasses, and he never spoke to her. The only time she saw anything other than the back of his head from the window was the morning of the next day, when he brought over a box of a dozen Bubbunut donuts ‘courtesy of the force’, as the note read on the box. She had those to eat along with her hospital meals, plus sweets from Beth, homemade cake slices from her mom, and a colossal ‘Get Well Soon’ cake moulded in the shape of the tri-oval from NASCAR, with her name and a kind message written in icing on the centre. Maisy was certainly well-fed throughout her week-long stay – an ankle break usually meant one or two days in hospital, but the extent of the damage warranted an extra five on top. The lack of physical activity left her tetchy at first, but food was an ample way to stave off her boredom. And there was certainly plenty of food around. It was of little surprise to Beth to see her friend a little larger on her last day. She gave Maisy’s jelly belly a teasing poke. Her finger sunk almost to an inch. “Well, you might not be able to make it to Panama, but I’m glad to see you’re enjoying yourself.” she said, smirking. “Errr…you did this to me,” said Maisy. She breathed in, briefly finding the flat tummy of her former self, then breathed out, letting her puffy belly roll back. “Can’t you blame yourself?” Beth protested. “You’re the one who sat there and ate it all.” “Heh. I didn’t have much of a choice.” Maisy said, smiling, giving her tummy a pat. “Your fault, leaving me alone with chocolate…I think I heard the nurses say I’ve nearly put on a stone.” “Hey, look on the plus side,” Beth said. “Your boobs are bigger.” Maisy nudged her chin down, looked at her and smirked. “Really? You think?” “Yeah…I think it suits you, having more to play with. Don’t tell me you haven’t had a feel already?” “Err…no. Not with four-eyes outside the door.” Maisy said, shivering. “He gives me the creeps.” “Really? You mean Jojo? He gives me bubblegum.” “Jojo?” Maisy inquired. “It’s Giovanni, or something. He’s cool. You should take your top off and show him, it’ll really brighten up his day.” Before Maisy could grace that comment with a reply, a nurse informed Beth her time was up and escorted her away. Chief Kint returned that afternoon, and Maisy said goodbye to her parents from the bed. They wrapped her in a soft hug together, and told her to be strong like always. Her mom promised she’d keep her supported, since Maisy couldn’t go back to her job, while her dad pledged to keep her pet Bichon Frise company while she was away. Bethany’s goodbye after she walked out of the hospital on crutches left her nearly in tears, but she was sure they’d see each other again soon after spring break. She’d been told UCF had another location in Eldora – she’d be out of the scope of regular campus life, but they’d be able to keep in touch. Maisy’s parents helped pack her stuff into the boot and back seats of Kint’s cop car, and in the early hours of the morning he drove her from the hospital to her new home. Eldora was a pretty place – palm trees lined clean and tidy streets, and the houses were all pearly white. The house Maisy had been offered to stay in was bigger than her old home, with a wide porch and a grove of orange trees in the back yard. A plump old lady with a big grey perm answered the door when Kint knocked, and immediately invited the three of them in for milk and fresh-baked cookies, straight from the oven. Her name, as Kint told Maisy, was Anne Gretel. “Hannah, pumpkin, it’s so lovely to have you here!” she beamed, embracing her in a hug. Maisy was confused for a moment, until she remembered she had a new name now, as well as a new home. “Call me Annie. Grannie Annie, if you like, your Grandma number three. I’ve got a room upstairs right and ready just for you. Let me show you around!” Maisy took a tour of the house, hobbling around on her crutches. Her room was the most spacious in the house; the bed was a double, warm soft and inviting. The living room featured a huge plasma television, which made a strange contrast with the dated but plush-looking furniture. The kitchen was wide and sparkly. Annie opened the cupboards. They were stocked to the top with goodies – potato chips, chocolate bars, cakes and biscuits, box after box of Twinkies… “I wondered what your favourites were and I just couldn’t decide,” Annie told her. “I thought I’d go the whole hog and have fun figurin’ out!” Maisy smiled. She decided she’d like it here. The following morning Maisy got herself acclimatised with the rest of the town. Eldora had a bus service, and the lone driver was a kindly fellow who offered to pick her up from the sidewalk even before she’d hobbled anywhere near the stop. He’d find her whenever she was walking by and give her the ride to the plaza never for any more than fifty cents. Maisy noted that everything was really cheap in Eldora. Especially the food. Maisy put her crutches to one side, and then scrolled through her phone as she waited for her pizza at one of the local pizzerias. She looked out for messages from Bethany, but couldn’t find any. She was a little sad that she’d have to miss out on spring break, but with crutches, a foot in a cast and nascent new love handles, she reasoned that perhaps it was for the best. Bethany assured her that the next year would always be better. Maisy made pains to avoid calling her during the week she was in PCB – not out of any ill will, but because she knew hearing the inevitable tales about the wild partying from a bed in a sleepy little town miles and miles away would only make her feel worse. She kept off Facebook too, to avoid the inevitable flood of photos of towels and sand, cool cocktails and bronzed bodies lying in the sun. She visited just once, biting her lip as she saw a blissful crowd of tanned, toned bellies, and miserably compared them with her own – thicker, paler, rounder, doughier. She gave her flesh a soft, sad pat. She logged out, and had a thought to create an all new Facebook account, under her new name. It’d help her keep in touch with the friends she’d make in Eldora. She entered her details, then flipped her phone to take a profile picture of her on the couch. It took twenty tries before she settled on one she was relatively happy with. She rued the chubbiness of her cheeks, the little pocket of flesh that formed under her chin as she looked at the camera, smiling. Annie’s irresistible southern cooking – her fried chicken, her pork loin steaks, her wicked weekly barbecues – was taking its toll. Maisy Pinkerton had been skinny, slender and fit. Hannah Selles, it seemed, was blooming into a chubby young woman. For however much longer, Maisy was irksomely unsure. In a town with a pizzeria, a burger bar and an ice cream parlour – but no gym – Maisy could only sit, eat and sigh. She knew her body was softening in her slow recovery. Arms that were tense with twine like muscles now wobbled a little when she tried to make her biceps bulge. Legs that once carried a lithe figure now carried weight – fat weight – above them and around them. Maisy was pining for a return to jogging on the beach, to shift the rubbing sensation she was feeling between her thighs when she hobbled from her comfy bed in the mornings. But that required an all-clear from the doctor on her ankle. To measure her progress healing, she had an appointment with him every two weeks. But much to her dissatisfaction, the only progress she seemed to be making was found on the reader above the little white square on the floor. “One hundred and sixty-nine pounds,” the doctor said, writing the number in his notes. Three other numbers were in the margins of a file page that bore her name, each a little higher than the last. “That’s a gain of eight pounds since your last visit.” Maisy grimaced. She fingered the roll of flesh that hung over her underpants, bought a size larger than what she normally wore. She thought most of the weight had gone to her belly, but then looked down at her legs. Fat was beginning to cocoon around her knees. “Err…how soon can I go running again?” she asked, flinching a little. “Judging by your most recent bone scans, not for another month,” the doctor said. “And that’s dependent on you allowing yourself time to rest, Hannah. I can see you’ve been putting excessive stress on fractures that haven’t fully healed yet. You need to stop exercising on your leg.” “But I have stopped exercising,” Maisy said. “It’s my…it’s my weight gain doing this. I’m getting heavier and heavier because I’m moving less, because of my ankle. But it’s hurting my ankle anyway.” “Then you need to stop moving it completely,” said the doctor. “You need to give it some proper rest. No exercising. No long walks. Prop it up in bed, and maybe it’ll have chance to recover from the stress.” Maisy wondered if she’d recover from her stress, of spending the next day cooped up on the couch, feeling her fitness further go to waste. The only distractions from her pointless self-criticism were television and food. She asked Annie for ice cream; her theory was that dairy would help her recovery, as milk was good for the bones. The little old lady put on her apron, and a while later wowed her with a huge triple milk chocolate sundae, smothered in whipped cream. The day after that, Maisy asked for another, and she soon fell into the routine of having one after every dinner, She’d have a chocolate milkshake when she relaxed on the porch through the warmth of noon, a hot chocolate and cream before bed, cookies and milk after breakfast in the morning. However fast her bones were getting stronger from all the extra milk she couldn’t really tell, for the other effects of her excessive dairy consumption were becoming increasingly apparent. Maisy’s shinier smile was becoming ever more laced with concern as she lathered her body in the shower every morning. She realised there was more of herself to soap up and scrub, more flesh to rub and dry, then slide into her clothes. Her jeans were feeling pinchy, so she forewent them on the morning of her thirtieth day of rest in favour of her underwear and an oversized tee. Annie was out, so she made herself a hearty breakfast on the grill, then slaked her thirst with two big glasses of milk. Maisy retrieved a big pack of mini chocolatey brownies from the top of the cupboard and opened them on the couch. Two by two, she popped them in her mouth. The Florida sun was shining through the windows, and her treats were beginning to melt in her hands. Undaunted, Maisy simply sped up her consumption as her eyes remained fixed to the TV. She scowled as the chocolate smeared over her cheeks as she ate – a little dropped on to her shirt, a little more on her thighs. She stuck out her tongue to lick it off her nose, then Annie arrived back and bustled into the living room. Her eyes shone when she saw Maisy. “Gosh, darling, I didn’t recognise you a moment there. My, my, haven’t you blossomed?” Maisy’s thicker cheeks flushed red as she smiled. Is it that noticeable already? she wondered. “Err…hello to you too, Annie.” “My, my, those college boys ain’t gonna know what hit ‘em. C’mere, let me get a look at you.” Maisy’s awkward smile stayed plastered to her face, like the chocolate, which was all over her hands too. Wanting to avoid smearing it on the upholstery she tried to stand up with using the armrests. She immediately flopped back down. Maisy felt her belly jiggle, then jiggle some more as Annie hoisted her up off the couch from her elbows. “Oooh, my gorgeous girl’s gotten so healthy. Heck, it’s like someone rigged you up to a garden hose and turned the pressure on high. Just like the cheaters do to the pumpkins at the state fair. Do you want waffles? I brought you some waffles.” “I’ve err…I’ve just had cookies.” Maisy said sheepishly. “Oh, give them a try. They’re delicious. You don’t want ‘em when they’re cold now, do you?” Maisy reluctantly had her waffles. Caving to the sweet homely tastes she had bacon sandwiches, a milkshake, steak, another sundae and another box of cookies all before she saw the doctor again the next morning. Once more she tripped to her underclothes in his office, though this time she did so slowly. Her pinchy jeans had left marks on her sides, and her shirt was bunching her boobs uncomfortably. The regular scan on her ankle was performed, and the doctor returned with a readout. “Good news,” he chimed. “You’re well on the road to recovery. You’ve no new fractures, your old ones are fixed up, and your breaks are finally unbroken.” “Yes!” Maisy shouted with a joyful bounce. “Does that mean I can run again?” “If you really want to, you’ll have to take it easy. It’s still early days.” the doctor said. “Don’t go too far or too fast. And don’t over-exert yourself. In your present condition, I wouldn’t recommend any more than thirty minutes of physical activity. Per week.” Maisy frowned. “Well…it’s something, I guess.” she said. Her hand massaged her belly softly, then she gave it a slap. It rippled, far more than what she would have allowed. Catching the doctor’s eye, she nervously pulled down the hem of her shirt. “Miss Selles…if you’d mind me asking this question…” he said. “How have you been keeping with your weight?” “Umm…fine, I think,” Maisy said. “I might have put on a few more pounds. Is that bad?” “It’s perfectly normal for patients that have suffered debilitating skeletal damage to gain weight over the course of their treatment.” he said. “But you’re a special case, and from looking at you now after last month…let’s say I feel a few pounds may be an understatement. Would you mind stepping on the scale?” “Oh. Um…not at all.” Maisy said. She bit her lip. These were words that she was not used to hearing. She stood by the scale, then tentatively stepped on, a finger pursed over her concerned pout. “A hundred and ninety nine pounds.” the doctor read. “Okay, Hannah, take a seat.” Maisy stepped off and planted her bottom on the cold steel of a chair. It spread over the smooth surface. She felt rather rotund. “You’ve put on thirty pounds since the last time we saw each other,” the doctor explained. “Like I said, it’s perfectly normal for people in your situation to put on weight.” Maisy nodded. “But this has come on quite rapidly, and unfortunately, it does look like you’ve ventured into overweight territory. You’re two stones above the upper line of what a girl your height and age should ideally be.” “Okay” Maisy said, unblinkingly. “There are steps you can take to help reduce your weight, but you don’t need the whole shebang. You were in great shape before your accident. I’m confident you’ll be able to get your body back to how it was. If you’d like to book another appointment in a month’s time to measure your progress, that’d be fine.” “Sure.” mumbled Maisy. She arranged a date, thanked him without looking him in the eye and left, hastily. With her ankle fixed, Maisy could walk normally again. But the bounce was gone from her step. She walked out the doctors red-faced, painfully aware of her softly shifting paunch, and the rolls that squished over her hips as her legs shifted. I broke my ankle. I’ve been out of training a while. It’s normal. Just like he said. Normal. As she felt her breaths begin to shorten, she began to wonder just how normal suddenly being thirty pounds overweight really was. It felt completely alien to her. A little chubbiness she could tolerate – an extra cup size, a smoother curve around her hips. But this, she knew, was fatness. This was pinchy, jiggly, pot-bellied fatness. Maisy decided there and then that something had to be done. She couldn’t go back home to her parents, to college, to work as a fat girl. Out on the sidewalk she tied up her hair and broke into a run. Her little feet pounded the street in their sneakers, aching from lack of recent use. Her softly swinging belly began to hop and bounce over the waistband of her sweats. I’ll do the circuit the bus does Maisy decided. I think it’s three miles. Just an easy-peasy three miles. Her body felt like it’d gotten to the three mile mark after just three hundred metres. It felt like years since she’d last done some running. Sweat emerged from under her arms, under her neck, and around her wobbly paunch. As she got close to Annie’s house, Maisy felt a stitch throbbing along her side. She clutched herself as she hobbled on, pressing into the fat. Annie was out on the porch, wearing big pink baking gloves. She gave her a wave. “Is that you darling?” she called. “You’re right on time, I’ve got poundcake in the oven!” Maisy groaned as her aches and pains brought her to a plod. The last thing she needed in her condition was more cake. “Whatcha say, you comin’ in?” Annie asked her. “Sure…Annie,” Maisy huffed. She put her hands on her knees and looked out to the road in front of her. “I’ll have some right after…right after I take a shower.” She pushed back the loose strands of her sweaty hair and hobbled inside, feeling breathless and weak. She didn’t want to give up so easily. But the doctor did say take it easy, after all she told herself. You’ve run a mile, almost. That’s worth a slice of cake, right? Maisy’s belly gurgled. She did feel hungry. “I’ve got whipped cream and chocolate sauce too. I’ll leave it in your room” Annie chimed. “Great,” Maisy puffed. “Thanks….ughhh…” She passed the kitchen on the way to her room, stripped off her clothes, showered, then slumped on the bed in a dressing gown. She spooned herself cake, numbly, as she nursed out the cramp in her soft thighs. Maisy decided to finish off her three miles the day after next. She wanted just a little more rest.
‘They are of the People, and return again to mix with the People, having no more durable preeminence than the different Grains of Sand in an Hourglass…’ - Benjamin Franklin, letter to George Whatley, May 23, 1785. Madison fingered her belly, adjusted her glasses and skimmed the front page of the Boston Herald. Her face beamed back, glowing and resplendent, though she scowled at the sight of the tiniest roll that had appeared under her chin in the picture of her shaking a pig farmer’s hand. The headline was ‘THE BIG V’ – BOSTON MAYORAL RACE HEATS UP AT EASTERN STATES EXPOSITION. The rest of the words were unimportant to her. She was keenly aware that in this election, image was everything. It could make or break her victory. Her opponent, Moira Dixon, was the hardened heir of a Boston Brahmin, himself the scion of a longstanding political dynasty, with a string of distinguished ancestors moulding and shaping their power base in New England ever since the end of the Civil War. Madison lacked such a pedigree – though her senator father could offer her a trove of political connections, his home state was California. She grew up on the West Coast, not the East. As such, despite a decade spent first at MIT and then around various local councils she still felt that she was struggling to convince people she belonged. Her bronzed skin, long blonde locks and undeniably sensual hourglass figure were the traits of a pin-up girl, not a politician. Madison knew she had to work not just to promote her vision, but to promote an image that would not be a detriment to her chances. Thus her campaign team made clear she was Madison, rather than Maddie. She was not ‘in her twenties’; she was twenty-eight years old. She was mature, she was driven, and she was the future of the city. But for people to believe in her, sacrifices unfortunately had to be made. She swapped her prescription contact lenses back for her bifocals, which she’d not worn since high school, but which her campaign manager Isabella insisted encapsulated an authoritative look. Before her first rally Madison had relented to having the waves straightened out of her golden hair, an inch (but no more) taken off the ends and the colour itself dyed to a sharp jet black. Changes, again not voluntary ones, were also being forced upon the body she’d honed through years of swimming and diving. Amidst the hustle and bustle of campaigning, Madison was proud, even a little bit surprised, that she’d kept herself under one hundred and thirty pounds. The social gormandizing – drinking in Irish pubs, a barbecue at the NAACP meet, pizza at several Italian-American restaurants – was pushing her closer and closer, she knew, but her campaign manager Isabella was keeping her fighting fit with a string of carefully chosen appointments at Boston’s basketball arenas, ballparks and football stadiums, where she’d inevitably be called upon to get in the game. It had taken time, practice and a select few cuss words, but Madison had surprised her team by sinking a free throw on her first attempt at TD Gardens in front of eighteen thousand people. The cheer she got had been the highlight of a long, dragging start to the year. The late night snacking was a little bothersome. But it was the late nights themselves that were taking their toll. Backstage, Lillian dabbed the little bags under Madison’s eyes with eye cream and concealer. “You’re a lifesaver.” Madison mumbled. She tried to glance one more time at the additions Isabella had made to her stump speech. “Keep looking at me,” said Lillian, pressing a finger on the side of her temple. “There. Just a little more. Perfect, you’re done.” She returned the makeup to her handy carry case. “And no, I don’t save lives. For you I barely have to. You’re beautiful. Remember that when you’re out there.” “Thanks. Urghh…how long do I have?” “You’re on in one.” said Scott, her pollster and math man. “One hour?” said Madison, smiling sweetly. She warmed at the thought of a nap when all of this was over. “Fifty seconds and counting” said Isabella. “Now Madison, focus. Those questions are going to be coming thick and fast this time next week, from all corners. This right here is going to be a breeze, but don’t let your guard down. Who are you?” “Umm…Madison Greene…” “I said who are you?” “Madison Greene!” she said with a little more vigour. “What do you want?” Food…Sleep... “A better future for Boston!” “Fantastic. Now where are you?” Madison blinked. “Umm….err…” She tried to peer out of the window. Isabella put a palm to her face. “The harbor. It’s called the harbor.” “I knew that!” Madison protested. “I just thought it had a special name or something, like…” “Boston Harbor?” offered Scott. “Yeah. I mean…no…” “And what happened in Boston Harbor two hundred and forty two years ago?” asked Lillian. Madison groaned again. Her personal stylist slash makeup artist had majored in History and rarely let her forget it. “Something important?” “Hell yeah, something important. It begins with a B. B…Buh-” Buh…Bubbunut Doughnuts. Oh god yes. “On in twenty.” said Scott. Madison suddenly stopped daydreaming. “- Boston…” Lillian drew out. “Boston…” Madison murmured. “Boston T…T…” “…twerking?” Lillian gave her a puzzled look. The she nearly doubled over laughing. “Are you serious? The Boston Twerking Party?” “Oh…oh right. I get it now.” said Madison. “That thing where the patriots…” “…got together and threw their asses out into the harbour. Okay, get that image out of your head.” said Isabella sharply. “You’re on now. Ready?” “Ready.” Isabella lifted the curtain and Madison strode out into the bracing air of the bay. A healthy crowd had formed around the stage set up next to the USS Constitution, and they applauded warmly as she strode to the veiled object on the table in the centre. The President of the Boston Nautical Heritage Society, a seventy year-old man dressed in full colonial naval regalia, shook her hand and took to the microphone, offered his greetings and thanks to the crowd and to Madison. “And without further ado, I’ll unveil what you’ve all come here to see!” he shouted. He hobbled over to the table and with a flourished whipped away the veil. Beneath it was an hourglass, vast and gleaming. A mound of shining sand, glittering like a mountain of gold, lay at the bottom chamber while the sun’s rays dazzled out of the top. The frame was beautifully carved mahogany - the ocean waves were cut into the grooves, where angels and mermaids linked hands. “After last year’s unfortunate incident, I hope you’re all as glad as I am to see the Franklin Hourglass again.” the president said to more applause. “Over the past nine months, our experts at the society, with help from the Sandwich Glass Museum and the late Folger Meadows, one of Boston’s last traditional whittlers, have painstakingly restored this prized artefact to its former glory.” His wrinkly hands lifted the hourglass up. “It gives me great pleasure to present this masterpiece in Mister Meadow’s memory to Madison Greene, so that she may have the honour of returning to the captain’s quarters of the USS Constitution, the very place Benjamin Franklin intended it to occupy when he created it two hundred and twenty six years ago.” Madison held out her hands and he passed it over. Her foot shot forward in her high-heeled shoes – it was a lot heavier than she’d thought. She gripped it by the side, with a hand on the top and bottom to manage the weight, then smiled at the crowd though inside her lungs were straining. She let the hourglass rest on the table a moment before she spoke. “Thank you Mister President. And thank you the citizens of Boston, for joining me on this lovely day to return this beautiful hourglass to its home aboard the – oh SHIT!” Madison’s mouth hung open as she saw the hourglass teeter on the edge the table. Having laid it on its side, she hadn’t seen it slowly roll away whilst she was speaking. She made a lunging grab for it but it tumbled off the edge, bounced, then fell off the stage. She dashed to the front, just in time to see it roll to the end of the harbour. She cringed as a splosh echoed across an audience that had fallen deathly silent. “Uhhh…” Madison mumbled. The eyes of the crowd were turning back to her once the antique had sunk to the ocean floor. The Boston Nautical Heritage president looked utterly shell-shocked. She snatched a pleading glance at Isabella backstage, behind the curtain. Her campaign manager held out her hands and mouthed ‘Don’t…move…’. She said some other things but Madison couldn’t read her lips. All she knew was that the worst thing she could do at this point was run away. Madison looked at the crowd. She had to say something. “Well, maybe I’m not the best person to handle Boston’s past…” she exclaimed to a slight titter. “But does the past always have to matter? I’m sure we as freedom-loving people don’t want to forever be trapped by the past and the mistakes we might have made. Maybe you put an odd pair of socks on this morning. Maybe you parked your car too close to an intersection when you came here. Maybe you just dropped a priceless hourglass into the ocean…” Some people started laughing. Madison smiled. “But, it doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to. You don’t have to be confined by your past, and neither should this city. It’s time we started looking forward. It’s time we started looking to the future. It’s time we started looking for a better future for Boston!” She raised a triumphant hand, and to her amazement, the audience began to applaud. She left the stage, more than happy to leave the still stunned president to handle the rest of the ceremony. “I don’t know how you pulled that off, but you did.” Isabella whispered as she descended the stairs. “Good job. Now let’s get in the car and get out of here” She eyed the audience. “Before they ask us about paying for salvage.” When they made it back to the downtown campaign office, the team agreed a good rest was in all of their best interests. They took the rest of the afternoon off, scheduling to meet up again the next morning. “Somebody please tell me my chances didn’t sink with that hourglass yesterday…” Madison said the moment she walked in. The memory still made her feel sick to her stomach – her stomach itself had given her no end of trouble in groaning and rumbling. “Nothing’s unsalvageable.” said Isabella, skimming through another edition of the Boston Herald. “How’s the social media?” “Well, the older generation think you’re a clutz, especially the WASPs” said Scott. “But there’s not many of them on Facebook. And on the plus side. the eighteen to twenty five demographic is finding it hilarious.” He showed her a picture on Facebook that had been doing the rounds on the rest of the internet – already it had accrued over 135k of likes. It was Nathaniel Currer’s old-timey painting of the Boston Tea Party, albeit with her image photoshopped in between the men dressed as Native Americans, holding a hand out while the Franklin Hourglass fell beneath her into the water. ‘Oh Shit!’ was the caption. “It isn’t important,” said Isabella. “The papers are having a field day, but you’re still closing the gap on Moira. That’s what matters. We’re going to build on that ahead of the debate, starting at the creamery tomorrow.” Madison licked her lips. Finally, now came the event she’d been looking forward to the most. “You’ve been taking it ok, right?” Lillian asked her. “Yeah” Madison shrugged. “Why?” “You’re looking a little…fed up.” “What?” said Madison, her hand nervously covering her tummy. “Literally or figuratively?” Lillian stared at her again. “Both, I guess. Have you been eating okay?” “Yeah…I’ve just been feeling a little bloated. That’s all.” Madison put her hand to her stomach again. Strangely, it was curving out. She was perplexed to find that even after skipping her usual morning frappuccino, the bloatedness did not subside. She pursued an answer at the office restroom, where she found an old spring scale by the cleaning supplies. She took off her heels and stepped on. Her eyebrows rose. She was one hundred and forty-nine pounds. She stepped on again. The arrow pointed to the same place, a dash just shy of 150. She gave herself a puzzled look in the mirror. She could no longer see her ribs, nor feel them as she smoothed a hand down her side. Her face was a little rounder, her waist a little wider, her breasts a tad bigger than she remembered. Where did all that come from? I weighed myself a month ago. I was one twenty-nine, wasn’t I? She wondered if she had been kidding herself all this time. Had she really been seeing a four as the middle number, rather than a two? Madison wiggled her hips. Clearly she’d lost her youthful metabolism. She made a silent resolution to start watching what she ate. “Stating at the creamery tomorrow,” she told herself in the mirror. “Or maybe later…” She’d allow herself an ice cream. She had to, of course, to make it look like she was enjoying her time there. One ice cream couldn’t do her any harm. It wouldn’t take her to one-hundred and fifty pounds. “Wouldn’t that be a disaster?” Madison grimaced, thinking about the press. She found the paper and checked the latest political reports, casting a keen eye over Moira. She smiled when she remembered where her opponent would be tomorrow – not at the creamery, but at a waste treatment plant. She was glad to have Isabella on her team. No matter what happened, she’d always pick the long straws. The thought made her crave a sundae. So she had one. Just a little one. The creamery ice cream, in fact, did not take her to one-hundred and fifty pounds. She learned she had passed that point, and then some, long before she even arrived at the creamery. “No, I’m not ok,” she said to Lillian before she could ask. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Madison glared at herself in her hand mirror while they stood by her car. She looked chubby. Primped, poised, and chubby. “It’s fine,” her stylist said. She felt a sharp tug down her shoulders as she tried to pull down the hem of her jacket. “Nothing I can’t fix.” Madison got Isabella on the phone and told her she was going to be later than she’d thought. She’d lost fifteen minutes already that morning, taking a lot more time than she was used to squeezing herself into her skirt. She bust a bra trying to secure the button, and her eventual success left her curiously disappointed when she found her jacket wouldn’t cover up a jelly roll of hers that hung over the edge. Lillian worked tirelessly to tie a matching coloured girdle under her shirt and jacket, around the areas of exposed flesh that stuck out at the bottom. “This is ridiculous.” Madison said, to no-one in particular. “You’re just having a fat day. It happens to everybody.” “Not like this. There’s a difference between having a fat day and waking up fat.” “You’re not fat.” “I’m one hundred and seventy pounds. I gained twenty pounds in less than a day. And that’s on top of the twenty pounds I think I gained before the last time I saw you. I literally got huge overnight. I went to bed and woke up with these...” Madison cupped her soft, fleshy, bigger boobs. “And this.” She gripped the nascent thickness on her sides. “Love handles, Lillian. You don’t get love handles from being bloated.” “Just hold your hands up a mo…” Madison grunted as Lillian pulled the strings tight. She felt her boobs mushroom out the top of the girdle. She tied them together at the back then offered Madison her jacket. She grit her teeth in discomfort as she twisted to put it over her shoulders. She brushed her hair over her back then looked at herself again in the hand mirror. Her slim figure had returned – she was her normal self again, save for the slight slither of fat beneath her chin. “Seriously, you’re a lifesaver” Madison told her stylist. “I wouldn’t recommend bending” Lillian said quietly. “And be careful when you sit down. The strings might snap.” “That’s fine. I can still eat, right? This thing won’t burst off?” “Yeah. A small ice cream won’t hurt.” “Great” she sighed. The taste would help take her mind off the painful pressure on her ribs, and her steady, yet sudden and wildly speedy weight gain. At least for a little while. A whiff of rich milk drifted to her nose. Her taste buds titillated. “All done?” Madison asked Lillian. “Oooh!” Lillian tightened the last string. “Yeah, all done.” Madison checked her handbag and the two of them walked together through the creamery car park. The smell of sweet ices grew and grew. Madison widened her strides. Suddenly, she heard a giant scratch. She felt a light breeze, and the gentle easing of pressure. Her hands zipped to her derriere. “We’re leaving” said Madison, mortified. “I’m getting out of here before anyone sees me.” “But they’re expecting you” said Lillian. “I can fix it, I’ve got safety pins…” Madison ignored her as she shimmied back to her car. The tear on the seat of her skirt rippled and grew. “Please!” Lillian shouted “The show has to go on!” Madison bustled in and started the ignition. She reversed out of her spot and wound down the window. “Tell them I’m sick or something. Tell them anything. Tell them I’m sorry. But don’t tell them what just happened.” She wound the window back up and sped away, cringing. Her tummy brushed the bottom of the steering wheel as she reached the freeway. What’s happening to me? she wondered, desperately. The next day at 2:00pm, after a very light lunch, Madison reluctantly turned to the campaign office after receiving Isabella’s thirtieth text message. Her campaign manager was uncharacteristically ruffled. She rattled off her questions as soon as her candidate opened the door. “Why didn’t you show yesterday? We’ve been calling you all morning, where have you been? What have you been doing?” “Growing…” said Madison. Her voice was low, and strained, like the stitches on her shirt. Ovals of pale, soft fat peeked out between each button, from the bottom of her shirt up to her breasts, where she’d had to leave them undone. Her boobs overflowed from the tops of their cups. Her campaign manager was visibly shocked. “Do you wanna hear the latest poll figures?” said Scott, cheerfully trying to break the silence. He forced a smile when Madison looked his way. “Scott, none of that bullshit matters now,” she huffed. “Do you have idea how much I weigh?” “Err…it’s not a big deal…” “Two hundred pounds. It is a big deal.” Madison muttered as she slumped on her chair. She had been unable to cram herself back into her girdle than morning – thus every pound showed. The chair groaned in complaint as she twisted around to face Isabella. “You remember how I made a sugary drinks tax a cornerstone of my health policy?” Isabella numbly nodded. Madison let her fingers trace the creases in the thick rolls of fat that formed around her middle as she sat. Her shirt buttons stretched. “How am I supposed to lecture people on the obesity crisis, looking like this?” Her voice drew quieter as she gripped her pot belly tightly. “I am the obesity crisis. Either we find a way to work around this, or I can’t keep campaigning.” There was more silence. Isabella broke it this time. “Maybe it doesn’t feel good, but it’s a little late to change your platform now. You’ve gotta keep fighting. You’ve got to remember being a mayor is not about what you look like. It’s about what you do, and what you say.” “But I’ll never get to be the mayor looking like this. They’ll say I’m lazy, that I can’t control myself.” Madison insisted. “I’ve got to lose this weight.” She got out of her chair and left the office in a hurry, leaving her team to the rest of the work. She drove back to her house, pinged off the super tight buttons of her shirt and pants then changed into some stretchy leggings and a vest. She found her long forgotten exercise bike in a cupboard, brushed off the dust and cobwebs and set it up in front of her television. Madison worked out forty minutes on, twenty minutes off for the rest of the day, right up till ten pm. Her belly bunched up and slapped her thighs as they rotated. Sweat poured off her chubbier cheeks. To keep her going she drank only water, and ate just some leftover celery from the fridge and the apples and pears in her fruit bowl. When they ran out, she ate nothing at all. By ten her legs felt like jelly. She staggered off the bike to her bathroom and showered. The burst of cool water made her calves seize up. She had to roll off the side of her bathtub to get out, and crawl to her bedroom. She was too weak to even step on a scale. She collapsed into her bed and nursed out the cramping knots in her muscles. Madison’s belly woke her up the next morning with an unsatisfied rumble. She ignored it, changed from her pyjamas into a fresh pair of leggings and a vest and got back on her bike. She found herself tiring more easily, and put it down to her lack of food and her efforts yesterday. She’d noticed her belly had stopped slapping her thighs – by the afternoon it was rubbing along the top, itching her as it sweated even as she leaned back to give her chubby rolls more fresh air. After working herself to the point of crumbling again, Madison eased herself off the bike. She took another long shower, dried herself, then found her scale. She dropped her towel and stepped on. “Five pounds,” she told herself. “At least five pounds…come on…” She tensed up as the reading flickered. She tensed up even more at the figure it came up with. She was two hundred and thirty pounds. “That’s impossible!” she screamed. She kicked her scale back into the cabinet. “I’ve done nothing but work out, all day! How am I bigger?!” Her legs were giving way, and her stomach was roaring for food. Teeth bared, she gave in to what her body was craving. She cleared out her cupboard, fridge and freezer of what she wanted, piled her living room table with cookies, potato chips, chocolate and ice cream, then dropped on the couch, turned on the TV, and stuffed herself relentlessly. When her snacks were gone she pulled her clothes back on and ordered pizza. She ate and ate, till her stomach was as painfully tight as her leggings. “What the hell?” she shouted through a mouthful of food, when they started to split down the outside of her thigh. She swore viciously and ripped the tear open herself, dumbstruck by the vast expanse of doughy fat, wobbling freely. She found herself a giant Hershey bar donated a while ago by a kindly supporter, and ate late into the night.
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