“How as it my fault? You’re the one driving, so you’re responsible for any tickets. That makes sense.”
“It’s not my car! How was I supposed to know the tail light was out? And you’re the one that swore at the cop!”
“So what? He deserved it, all stuck-up and strutting around like he doesn’t have anything better to do than interrupt our vacation.”
“Yeah, but if you’d just shut your mouth for one minute he probably wouldn’t have ticketed us. The fine is totally on you!”
Ellen listened to her friends arguing from the back seat of the car, trying not to feel too discouraged. Not even an hour on the road and they’d already been ticketed, and since it was her car she had little doubt that she’d end up with the fine. A great road trip this was shaping up to be! They’d been planning this for ages, a monolithic two-month expedition across America, stopping off at motels each evening as they made their way through just about every location in the country, but now they’d scarcely begun and there were already setbacks.
She leaned back in her seat, squinting as the midmorning sun flickered intermittently across her face, and tried not to think about it – but Erica and Lydia’s incessant bickering from the front was making it difficult to forget. Lydia had been driving, but she’d not really done anything wrong; it had been Erica that had sworn at the cop and earned them the ticket, by Ellen’s modest consideration.
After a few minutes trying to ignore the escalating argument in the front, Ellen sat up and leaned forward, interjecting her head between the two bickerers.
“Hey, either of you hungry? There’s a rest stop coming up, maybe we could get a bite to eat before we carry on,” she suggested mildly, leaving the ‘maybe that’ll shut you up’ to subtext. Erica and Lydia were unshakeably close friends, but they did love to argue, much to Ellen’s ire.
After a brief moment of deliberation, Erica shrugged.
“Sure, I’m pretty hungry. I barely got any breakfast this morning; I didn’t have enough time for it after my run and packing and stuff.”
Erica was remorselessly athletic. Every single day since they’d first met in high school she’d gone for a run in the morning, then to the gym in the evening after class. It had been a struggle just to get her to agree to come on a vacation where they’d be in a car so much, instead of going off biking or hiking or some such sport.
However, Ellen had to admit… in the past year, she had noticed some changes in her friend’s body. She was still as muscled as ever, but the laxer diet she’d been affording herself in the past year away from home seemed to be having some effect. There was a slight thickness to her midsection that had never been there before. It was just a few pounds, but enough to soften the once-solid outline of muscle there and bulge slightly over the tight waistband of her jean shorts.
“Cool. Lydia, you want to get some food?” Ellen asked, turning now to her friend in the driver’s seat.
“Hey, why not?” Lydia answered quickly, “It’s our vacation after all. As soon as I get back home I’ll have mom breathing down my neck every time I even think about eating, so I may as well enjoy this while I can.”
Lydia’s mom had a reason to be worried, Ellen reflected, looking her friend up and down as they pulled into the rest stop. Lydia had been decidedly on the heavier side her entire life, but the past year had been especially cruel to her; she’d blossomed hastily from a chubby-but-shapely teenager into a rather uncomfortably obese young woman, body swelling in every direction as her gluttony got the better of her as she was finally emancipated from her stern parents. She still retained some of the pear shape and smooth caramel skin of her younger years, those boons of her Hispanic descent, but even in the past few months they had begun to fade beneath the weight of poor choices.
They pulled into the line for the drive-through, and the three girls all scanned the menu as they waited for the line to move along. Ellen was just resolving that she wasn’t all that hungry, and that a coffee and a muffin would probably be more than enough for her, when an excited exclamation from Lydia made her jump.
“Hey! How about this…” the athletic girl began, a glint in her eye that made Ellen feel decidedly nervous, “I propose a challenge, one that should resolve the matter of the ticket.”
Both other girls looked at her, bemused.
“Do we really need a resolution?” Ellen said, frustrated, “It’s my car, I’ll pay it. Come on, let’s just forget it.”
“Nah, I’ve got an idea! It’ll be fun,” Erica laughed. Somehow Ellen doubted it, “Look, it’s like this; every time we pass a rest stop with a drive-through, we’ve each gotta buy something and eat it. Whoever gives up and can’t eat any more first wins. Simple!”
There was a moment’s pause as the other girls digested the suggestion, then after a moment, Lydia spoke doubtfully.
“Do you really think you could win against me?” she asked, a little self-consciously.
“Sure! I’m taller than you, I have a big appetite, and I barely ate breakfast. I’ll beat you in a heartbeat!”
“No way! You don’t have a chance,” Lydia shook her head, amused.
“H-hey! Aren’t you forgetting someone? I’m gonna lose for sure in a competition like this!” Ellen interjected hastily. She was a slight girl, short and slim, and held no delusions regarding such facts.
“Well, maybe,” Erica shrugged, “But if you take the challenge at least you have a chance of not paying. C’mon Ell, it’ll be fun!”
“Well, I’m in,” Lydia growled, competitive spirit thoroughly roused, “I’m gonna make you pay that fine!”
It took a moment, but after some mild cajoling from the other two, the vacation atmosphere got through to Ellen, and with a reluctant smile she agreed to join in.
Before long they were in the parking lot, tucking into their purchases. Ellen was cautiously sipping her coffee and nibbling on her muffin, trying not to get too many crumbs on the upholstery as she wondered quite what she’d gotten herself into. Erica had gone with some sort of breakfast wrap and had already almost finished it, but Lydia, in a show of reckless bravado, had gone ahead and purchased pretty much an entire meal. Pancakes and syrup, a muffin, coffee and two jelly doughnuts, all of which she was now eating with such confidence that Ellen couldn’t help but feel certain that the larger girl was sure to win.
Ellen finished her muffin around the same time Lydia finished her last doughnut, crumpling the wrapper and sticking it in the plastic bag she’d sensibly brought along for this very eventuality. She watched the heavier girl licking the fingers of one hand clean of jelly and sugar, the other resting unconsciously on her full belly, and at that moment Ellen resolved that she was going to win this competition.
Lydia certainly had the advantage in appetite and sheer stomach-space, but she was also overconfident, partially full just from her first meal. If Ellen paced herself and didn’t get cocky… well, she could win this – and that’d show both of them!
Before long they were on the road again, but scarcely had they been driving for thirty minutes before they came upon another rest stop. Still fired up with enthusiasm, they pulled into the drive-through and ordered once again. Ellen remained sensible, taking only another coffee and a bagel; already more than she’d eat on the average morning, but she could deal with it.
Erica and Lydia, meanwhile, had gotten themselves into a rowdy competition at the window. Erica had ordered a glazed doughnut, then Lydia had ordered three. Erica upped hers to four, then Lydia responded in kind… in the end, both of them were sitting in the parking lot facing the prospect of a half-dozen each, and Ellen was feeling increasingly smug about her chances as she watched them tuck in. If they kept stuffing themselves like this… well, even her meagre appetite might win her the day!
Soon they were off again. Ellen had taken over the driving for now; having finished her bagel long before her friends had their doughnuts, she’d offered to take over for a bit while they ate in the back seat. Neither of them seemed to be slowing down yet – at least as far as she could tell from her snatched glimpses in the rear-view mirror – but she had no doubt that they were beginning to feel full. She, on the other hand, was… well, not starving, but there was still plenty of room in her stomach left available.
She adjusted the rear-view mirror to afford a better view of her passengers, smiling quietly to herself at the sight of their increasingly swollen midsections. On Lydia it wasn’t really very noticeable; even when the chubby girl hadn’t yet eaten at all, her belly bulged over the waistband of her leggings and rested lightly on her thighs as she sat. The swelling caused by a few doughnuts and pancakes wasn’t going to be too visible under all that flab.
Erica, however, was a different story. Her stomach was visibly bloated, the waistband of her jean shorts digging into her belly in a manner that looked more uncomfortable with each passing mouthful. It looked quite odd; a full rounded belly on an otherwise so athletic body. Soon, Ellen hoped, the sporty girl would be reaching her limit. Then Ellen might actually win one of these silly competitions for once!
The next few rest stops passed by in a blur of unhealthy food and increasing stomach pain. Even sensibly buying as little as possible at each stop, by the time the afternoon was drawing to a close the girls had stopped at a total of eight drive-throughs, and even Ellen was feeling uncomfortably stuffed.
She was driving with one hand on the steering wheel, the other massaging her aching gut through her shirt. She’d eaten more in the past few hours than she normally would in an entire day, and her stomach was not at all hesitant to object to its abuse with angry gurgles and spikes of discomfort whenever she shifted in her seat. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take. From the map, it was only a few miles more to the motel where they were planning to stay the night, but she was reaching her capacity. Determined though she was to show up her friends and win the competition, her motivation did have limits.
She glanced at the image of said friends in the rear-view mirror, and was pleased to see that they at least seemed to be as stuffed as she was. Erica now looked almost pregnant, her belly swollen tight as a drum, pushing against her long-since-unbuttoned jean shorts. There was still a look of casual confidence adorning her face, but Ellen could see in the mirror that whenever she thought nobody was looking that it fell away to reveal discomfort in its place.
The past few stops, both Erica and Lydia had begun ordering less with each order, evidently already regretting their initial bravado as the reality that the competition wasn’t going to be over anytime soon set in. Any advantage they may have had originally over Ellen was long since sabotaged by their recklessness, and now both of them had taken to ordering only a single sandwich or muffin at each stop.
That said, Ellen had to say that she was impressed by Lydia’s appetite. The girl had eaten a full breakfast that morning, then at each stop she’d eaten at least as much as Erica and usually a little more. According to Ellen’s very rough mental mathematics, that was easily 4000 or so calories, but she’d packed them away with confidence and had only recently begun to tire.
That said, the effects of her gorging were beginning to show on her body now. Her belly was even more rounded than usual, the sheer quantity of food within making her look painfully bloated despite the thick layers of fat that buried her midsection. The increased bulk had pushed her overworked tank-top into riding up a little, revealing a wide wedge of caramel flesh spilling over her waistband and into her lap, an arrangement Ellen was having a peculiar difficulty in looking away from.
“Ugh, there’s another rest stop coming up,” Erica complained suddenly, making Ellen jump and focus on the road, “At least this’ll probably be the last one of the day. Man, I’m getting sick of fast food!”
That wasn’t something Ellen had thought she’d ever hear Erica say. The other girl had always had a determined fondness for junk, trusting more to her metabolism and active lifestyle to keep her trim than paying much attention to her diet. Seeing her get sick of fast food was quite an event.
“Sounds like you’re going to be losing the competition then,” Lydia jabbed, brushing crumbs off her lap and onto the floor of the car, “’Cos I’ve still got plenty of space left to fill.”
“Hah, sure you have,” Erica snorted disbelievingly. Lydia glared at her.
“I do! I’m barely full at all,” she boasted. Normally she was quite shy about her appetite, but when among friends and caught up in the competitive spirit she could forget her self-consciousness for a while. She patted her plump belly with one hand, “Still plenty of room to spare!”
“Oh really? Well then, I dare you to order, um… a double cheeseburger meal deal!” Erica launched her challenge, eyes flashing victoriously as Lydia looked uncertain. The expression was only fleeting though, replaced almost immediately by the familiar bravado.
“Easy, I eat meal deals for breakfast,” Lydia boasted, and not inaccurately, “I’ll do it.”
Ignoring her friends once again, Ellen pulled into the rest stop drive-through and waited to be served. This competition was turning out to be more trouble than the ticket ever could have been!
By the time they had been served and found a place to park the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon, drowning the car in an orange glow as they all unwrapped their meals. Ellen had a crispy chicken salad; the smallest-looking thing she’d found on the menu. Nonetheless, now that it was in her hands it managed to look intimidatingly massive, thick slabs of chicken accompanied by a few wrinkled lettuce leaves slathered with salad dressing.
Erica had also ordered sensibly, and was already nibbling away reluctantly on a sausage roll that somehow looked at once miserably shrivelled and uncomfortably large.
In sharp contrast to the two smaller girls’ practical choices, Lydia had honoured Erica’s dare, and was now unwrapping a double cheeseburger, large fries, onion rings and a Coke. Just the thought of eating so much grease and meat at this point almost turned Ellen’s stomach, so it was with some admiration that she watched Lydia begin to tuck in to her oversized finale.
After a few minutes, both Ellen and Erica were finished with their own modest portions and only Lydia was left eating. She ate slowly but consistently, first demolishing the fries one by one, then moving on to the onion rings. Her belly swelled subtly larger with each bite, bulging rounder as more and more food slid down her throat and into her expansive gut. By the time she had finished the onion rings and was finally onto the burger, her top had ridden up almost to her navel, revealing a great swathe of her chubby stomach. She had some reddish stretch marks across the side of her belly that Ellen had never seen before, and she wondered if they were the scars of her friend’s hefty gain over the past year.
Lydia was almost halfway through the burger now but she was starting to hesitate, taking lengthy breaks between each mouthful just to catch her breath and wait for the pain in her stomach to die down. Sauce smeared itself across her face as her eating became more careless, and Ellen watched in fascination as a single drop of grease dripped from her chin and onto her exposed belly, where it slithered its slow way down the stretched caramel skin all the way to the waistband of her leggings, where it was absorbed by the clingy fabric.
Ellen was torn in her desires. On the one hand, if this burger defeated Lydia, then Ellen had managed to avoid losing despite the odds, and she didn’t have to pay the fine for the car. On the other, there was a fairly big part of her that just wanted to see Lydia succeed victorious in this absurd challenge and finish her meal, fine be damned.
Now though it seemed like Lydia had given up, the last few mouthfuls of the burger utterly defeating her. She was leaning back in her seat, grimacing with discomfort as the mass of unhealthy grease and sugar that she’d forced into herself that day churned and roiled inside her gut. Indeed, a smug Erica seemed just about to declare Lydia the loser, when suddenly the girl in question opened her mouth and let out a loud, uncomfortable belch. Without even pausing to excuse herself, she immediately took advantage of the sudden opening and stuffed the last mouthful of burger into her mouth, then washed it down with the last of the Coke and swallowed with difficulty. The meal was done, and Lydia stood – or rather, sat – victorious.
Ellen and Erica could only look at each other, impressed and unnerved in equal measure. Their friend was capable of feats of sheer gluttony far greater than any they could have expected. It was slightly revolting, but at the same time Ellen couldn’t help but feel awed.
After that there were a few minutes of silence in the car, broken only by the gurgling of their bellies and the occasional pained groan from Lydia. Eventually though, Erica broke the silence with a reluctant phrase; one that sent fear through the hearts of all three girls and made them all wish, not for the last time, that they hadn’t agreed to this stupid challenge.
“Well, if none of us are out… I guess that means we’ll have to keep going tomorrow.”