If I had a million dollars, hell a billion, I would have gladly bet it all that I would never, ever have my breasts enlarged. Yet there it is. Or rather, there they are. I look in the mirror and detest the person I am becoming.
My nerves are getting to me. I am having trouble assembling the lingerie I bought at the exclusive Caribbean resort and clinic where I have spent the last three weeks. It didn’t look that complicated on the mannequin. My husband is in his bathroom showering after returning from a business trip. I arrived early this afternoon from St. Barths and have been preparing myself both mentally and physically for this moment. My life and that of my daughter depend on my being able to satisfy him. At the clinic, I read everything I could of the Cosmo genre and talked incessantly and probably obnoxiously to the other women there. We haven’t had sex since our wedding night. My husband consummated our marriage with the embryo that became Chloe already in residence in my uterus. But after that, he left the pregnancy and birthing to me. I have my own suite in a separate wing of the house, complete with a kitchen. He’s never crossed the threshold to my quarters. Or for that matter, held his daughter. I can’t think about that now. I need to focus. I may be out of practice, but Kevin most certainly is not.
I finally get everything sorted out, push his bedroom door open, and lean against the frame in the sultry pose I have practiced before the mirror a thousand times. Kevin is sitting in a plush chair. He smiles, stands, and walks to me. Takes my hand and leads me into his sanctuary. He turns me around, wraps my waist with his hands. He’s not being sensual. He’s measuring. He steps back, asks me to turn around. I do a ballet pose I have practiced, and swirl until I am facing him again. He tells me I am acceptable. My body tingles with relief. Certainly not with desire.
I guess last night went well enough. We kissed before Kevin sent me back to the other room. He wants me again this morning. I am in the women’s bathroom in his suite. There are plenty of lotions, scents and other products that do not belong to me. I prepare my body. The lingerie, different from last night, goes on easier. It’s a lacy, tempting thing that reveals little but promises much. I check myself in the mirror. I am a caricature of male sexual fantasy. Long legs die into an absurdly tiny waist. I like my ass. It’s original equipment. And, of course, the new tits. I don’t let my anticipation of seeing Chloe later today distract from what lies ahead. I need a second satisfying session with Kevin to solidify the progress of last night. My practiced pose in the doorway is different, but no less effective. This time, he doesn’t inspect me.
He devours me.
Chloe is a load of jittery seventeen-month-old energy. She knows her mom is coming home. I’ve built it up for days now. I am in love with this little munchkin. But I am not in mom shape. The three weeks of caring for a feisty toddler has been an eternity. I’ve had her for a few hours now and then, but three weeks? I’m exhausted. And way behind. The deadline for my first draft is looming and I am nowhere close. I’m praying that I can claim a few sick and personal days and knock it out.
It’s no mystery that I write Young Adult Fantasy. When I was little, I retreated into my imagination to escape my dingy reality. I was luckier than I deserve. My LSU creative writing professor knew an agent. She took me on and sold my first novel to a publisher when I was a junior. I feel a little guilty about it. So many more talented writers struggle to get noticed, let alone find an agent. You hear these stories of famous authors like Stephen King or Janet Evanovich receiving a hundred rejections or finally having the seventh novel they have written get published. I was lucky, for sure. But I am a good writer. Otherwise, my foot in the door would have been smashed to pieces.
We are sitting in an ice cream place near the LSU campus. It was our favorite when Mel and I were roommates. We still meet here because it is in a different world from where Mel lives now. I don’t understand why Mel wants the anonymity, but I don’t mind. It’s close to my apartment. Chloe is in a highchair. Chocolate Fudge ice cream decorates her face. I’m guessing a quarter of the treat actually gets into her mouth.
I raise my eyes to a disturbance at the door. My best friend, in many ways my soul mate, enters. My brain freezes. Physically, she is a different person. She is tall. Five-eight. In college, she had a nice figure. More up top than me, but that’s not saying much. After Chloe was born, she chunked up a bit. I tried to get her to come to my yoga class, but she wasn’t into it. Her body started to change when the personal trainer came on board. That was when Chloe was a year old. I had her three or four days a week for a few hours so Mel could work out undistracted. She got fit, but I didn’t like her body. Her hips were pretty much the same. She always had a nice bottom. But her waist shrunk. It couldn’t have been more than twenty inches. I didn’t think it was healthy, but she said Kevin liked it that way.
And now she shows up with this godawful rack. She looks like Daisy Mae in L’il Abner. The comic, not the movie. The actress was practically wholesome compared to my best friend’s new look. I don’t want to hide my disappointment, but when I see those pleading blue eyes, I relent.
Mel lights up like the Mel I know and makes her way over. She apparently doesn’t mind getting secondhand chocolate on her face as she coos and kisses her sweet daughter. I’m happy she goes straight to Chloe. I would have worried what else has changed. She puts Chloe back in the highchair and turns to hug me. It’s a little awkward, what with those things pressing against my tiny God given ones. I laugh and step back. I tell her she is stunning, which is semantically accurate. Her face oozes gratitude for my not judging her. I let her believe I used the word as an adjective.
Mel orders a double scoop of butter pecan. This is a surprise. Not the flavor, that had always been her favorite, but the quantity. I am more of a chocolate fudge person, but I learned to like butter pecan because Mel would only eat a half of the one scoop she ordered and shove her bowl to me. When she was younger, she had a hard time with her weight and was determined to never go back to there.
While we are waiting for the order, I catch her up. Chloe is a busy child. Mel delighted in the tales of our attempts at watercolors. I owe her a couple of outfits that I couldn’t salvage.
“Chloe had her first tantrum,” I say. At least it was the first directed at me. Mel is horrified. I laugh and tell her to get used to it. At her age, she is just getting wound up. I have known Chloe since before she was born. Even though I have no interest, or prospects for that matter, to be a mother, I intend to be a part of the lives of my best friend and her daughter. I want to be competent, so I have educated myself. I find it funny that I, the emerging spinster, am lecturing Chloe’s actual mother on child development.
Mel attempts to feed Chloe a spoonful of her ice cream. The effort is marginally successful. She makes a funny face and misses her own mouth. A blob of butter pecan dribbles down her cheek. Chloe claps her hands and does her adorably infectious laugh. I take a moment to internalize the gratitude I have for being allowed into her life. I add a prayer that the changes my best friend is enduring will not affect that.
We are shopping. Mel made the totally credible argument that she had nothing to wear. At least anything above her waist. I tried to get out of it, but she argued we don’t see each other enough. I had no counter to that. I tell myself I’ll make up the two thousand words I’m supposed to put down today with a more productive tomorrow. It’s classic author self-delusion.
I have never darkened the door of the shops we enter. My salary teaching creative writing at a community college couldn’t pay for one shoe. Still, we are having fun. I hold Chloe’s hand as we consult on whatever Mel is modeling. We buy outfits meant to attract the eye to her breasts, and others with the hopeless aim of distracting. Mel offers to buy me a slinky cocktail dress like the one she has selected. I decline. Between grading papers and chasing deadlines, I rarely socialize. Never in an arena that would call for a two-thousand-dollar dress.
As far as I know her feet haven’t changed. Nevertheless, she picks out a few pairs that go with her new outfits. I make the mistake of asking who the heck is Jimmy Cho and why would a woman of her height want to be five inches taller.
We have the best fun in the lingerie store. I expect her to go for the sexy things that are meant to be worn for a very short time. Instead, she picks out basic foundation garments. The bras she picks are lacy and the panties efficient, but they are nothing like the choices in the nightwear section.
Mel and I have never been modest around each other. In the process of finding the right fit and look, I get an eyeful of her new chest. I set aside my own belief that all bodily mutilation is grotesque, I have to admit the surgeon did an excellent job. The airwaves and social media are loaded with images of women with fake breasts that are so oversized as to be aesthetically unappealing. I tell Mel this. She asks if I want to touch them.
It's not like we never touched each other’s skin when we were roommates. That was silly girl stuff. Mel proving my breasts were less than a handful. Two handed strip poker. It was never sexual. This is different. My fingers glide slowly over her silky skin. The look in her eyes can only be desire. My own body temperature raises a couple of degrees.
Chloe is crying. We have forgotten her. Mel doesn’t speak as she dresses. She hands me her credit card asks me to pay while she changes Chloe’s diaper. I look at the card when the sales associate hands it back to me. It bears her maiden name. I make a mental note to ask her about it sometime. I hand the lingerie purchases and the bag with the outfits Mel purchased for Chloe to the chauffeur. He will add them to the trunk of the big Mercedes while I set out to find my tribe.
The three of us are in the back. Chloe faces us in her car seat. Her eyes are losing the battle. We have shopped straight through her nap time. The car pulls up beside my ten-year-old Corolla. I kiss Chloe and tell her I love her. I don’t think she hears me. After the moment in the dressing room, I feel awkward about hugging Mel. She has no such inhibition. Her hug is fierce. Her voice is muffled against my sweater.
“Thank you, Tiff. You are the only one I can count on.” She releases the hug and steps back. Her eyes glisten like they want to cry.
I watch the car move away. She is looking out the back window. I depart the universe of luxury that I have inhabited for a half day and settle myself in my ratty car. I need to get going. I’ll barely make my evening class as it is. The key is in my hand, but I don’t start the car. I need a minute to think. It will take me almost a year to make what my best friend spent in a single afternoon. Why is it, then, that I am the only person in her support group?
I am not gay. That is, unless all the hookups in college were a frantic effort to disprove it. Neither is Tiffany. I know her too well. One could be forgiven for wondering, given her fierce avoidance of sex, and dating in general for that matter. As far as I know, the only time she attempted to sleep with a guy was that time I hounded her into it. She came home shivering, the mascara I made her wear running, and threw up before she could reach the toilet. I never pushed her after that. But she didn’t look at girls either. It was like she was afraid to let anyone, male or female, get close to her. That she has let me in is an honor I will not abuse by interrogating her about whatever happened in her past.
So no. If anything, Tiffany is asexual, For sure she’s not gay. That makes the thing that almost happened in the dressing room so weird. I wanted to kiss her. Would have kissed her. I am not the deep thinker that Tiff is. I have no tools with which to examine my emotions. I am driven by whatever my need is in the moment. In college it was picking up a dude at a party or pulling an all-nighter to keep my A in physics. It comes to me that my immediate need is to be loved. That makes sense. Right now, except for Tiffany, there is none of that in my life.
Chloe is still asleep. We pull into my driveway. There is another one that leads to the main entrance. This one goes to the part of the house that Chloe and I occupy. It is self-contained, complete with open kitchen, nursery, playroom, and a spare bedroom that Tiff used when we brought Chloe home from the hospital. Tiffany calls it the slave quarters. Who knows? Maybe it was at one time.
I pray Chloe will sleep through the clothes change, but her eyes pop open, fully alert. She makes complaining noises. I would too if I’d missed my nap. I decide to bathe her and try on the new unicorn onesie. We play with one of the educational toys, a matching game. By the time I finish reading Goodnight Moon to her, she is flagging. At this point, I usually put her in the crib in the nursery. Tonight though, I let her fall asleep in my arms.
I am reading while Chloe naps. It took less than a week to get back into the pre-surgery routine. The only difference is that twice Kevin wanted me in his bed. On those nights, Kim stayed with Chloe. Kim is an enemy turned friend. I met her when Chloe was nine months old. She was still asleep and I was out of coffee. A guard escorted me to the main kitchen and there was this woman, girl actually. I picture the scene in my head.
She is a leggy bottle blonde with boobs about the size mine are now and equally fake. She is barefoot, wearing boxers and a cropped t-shirt not designed for her chest size. She turns at the noise I make and offers this bright smile.
“Oh hey,” she says. “You must be Melanie. I’ve been so wanting to meet you.”
I ask her who she is. I don’t need to ask what she is doing in Kevin’s kitchen. She tells me her name is Kim.
“Kevin wants some orange juice.”
I ask her how long she has been sleeping with my husband. She tells me without a hint of embarrassment. I do the math. It started about the time I found out I was pregnant. She says it is her duty and honor to service the High Commander until my body is suitable again. She says the leaders must not be distracted from their vital work by unfulfilled needs. I ask what work.
She looks at me like a second-grade teacher whose student has forgotten how to spell ‘cat.’ “We are going to take back our country, silly.” Says it like my husband is planning a program to build playgrounds in every neighborhood. She smiles and picks up the glass of fresh squeezed juice. She hopes we can be friends. “Let’s get together soon. I’m dying to see Chloe up close.”
It took several days to gather my thoughts after Kim told me she what an honor it was to be fucking my husband, the High Commander. Whatever that was. Some stupid male fantasy, I thought. It was clear, though, that Kevin did not want me in his life, or even in his bed. I hated myself for letting him cloister me during the pregnancy. For believing it was just his male queasiness. For taking the easy way out after Chloe was born. For not insisting we restart our sex life. Maybe he wouldn’t have resorted to screwing a bimbo. But no. It was his choice to isolate and ignore me. To take to his bed a woman with a fabricated body who thought she was servicing the High Commander. It was time to get out of this nut house.