Hungry For a Change
Claire barely heard Julie’s car over the heavy rain, but she recognized the roar of her roommate’s mid-90s sedan immediately. Claire had settled into her Friday-night routine of lavender tea and a romance novel while her cat, Toby, retreated to the windowless bedroom, settling on a pile of dirty laundry. She had expected her roommate home several hours ago but figured Julie had a good reason for being late.
As if on cue, Julie opened the door, briefly letting in a taste of the vicious weather outside. She took a moment to shake out her jacket outside before stepping in with her purse and a Styrofoam container in hand. Claire took in the wafting smell of food but held back from seeming too eager about it.
“How was the interview?” Claire asked, not looking up from her book.
“An interview,” Julie replied, hanging her raincoat in the closet. “The boss is a creep. Harmless, but a creep.”
“What’s it lookin’ like?”
“I think I sold it. I saw the other girls. Some have got the goods, and some were even cute, in that low-self esteem kind of way."
“Spring-break-girls-gone-wild low-self esteem?”
“Fortunately not. Shrinking violets, actually. I don’t even know why they’d even want to work there. I don’t know if they do either. Hell, I barely want to.”
Claire sipped her tea and smiled. “They probably think that the lecherous eyes of male patrons will give them a confidence boost.”
“Yeah. Speaking of boosts, I need to get out of this miracle of miracles. My boobs are starting to protest.” Julie reached under her painted-on tee, unclasped the bra from the front, and tossed it in the general direction of a stack of clothes in the bathroom. This startled Toby but didn’t rouse him to move. Julie shook out her hair and stretched her long, thin frame toward the ceiling. With soft features and modest curves, Julie could see herself modeling in a twisted world. That said, she could also see herself stripping, playing roller derby, or bounty hunting.
“On the plus side, they offered me a free meal. I’d rather eat a live scorpion, but I figured you wouldn’t turn it down” She set the Styrofoam container on the table. “Hope you like big slabs of meat with deep fried cheese on the side.”
Claire perked up at the mention of a free meal, particularly a burger. “You know, you might not have hated the cheesesticks.”
“I’ll pass on their ‘cheese’ and their ‘meat,’ thank you,” she replied, punctuating with air quotes.
“Yes, and I’m sure the burgers are to die for,” Claire said, sniffing the takeout box.
“Beggars can’t be choosers, my dear.”
Claire needed no additional prompting and popped open the box. She wasn’t a fan of cooking and preferred her meals presented to her rather than prepared by her. Fortunately, Julie was more often than not willing to cook. It was one of many ways the two girls conveniently complemented each other. Julie needed the support after dropping out of Stanford University and Claire needed the stability after moving 800 miles across the country to Northshore to escape a messy engagement that hadn’t exactly worked out.
“This burger sucks,” Claire said, her mouth full.
“And with the what-did-you-expect award...” Julie said, grinning at her roommate who was fishing for a pickle dropped down her shirt. “Anyways, the way you’re attacking that thing, I don’t think you’re being too picky. You’d better take it easy on the burgers, babe. From the looks of that shirt you’ve been putting on weight.”
Claire pulled down on the tee that was giving a hint of exposed belly. “Hey! That’s a cheap shot, even for you. Are you calling me fat?”
“I’m just pointing out that it can’t always go straight to your tits. On that note, I can’t help but acknowledge the irony that I’m the one applying to Hooters.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “I’ve got a job, and I don’t need to flaunt my talents to do it." Claire had a habit of downplaying her textbook one-two punch of natural platinum blonde hair and crystal blue eyes if anything to avoid the blonde bimbo stigma. Not helping matters were her double-Ds and flaring hips. While she had plenty to show off, Claire rarely flaunted her curves, opting instead to merely dress them appropriately. While there was no jealousy between the girls, Julie’s tall, willowy frame, and Claire’s petite voluptuousness gave each of them plenty of ammunition for playful teasing.
“Whatever,” Julie said, peeling herself out of the clingy top as she headed to her room. “I gotta' change clothes. I’m starting to feel sleazy.”
Claire dropped the last of the burger into her mouth, before patting her chest and burping softly. “Ugh, that’s not going to sit well. it’s almost enough to make me not want to eat out ever again.”
“That’s what she said,” Julie yelled from the adjacent room. She switched to a baggy shirt at least six sizes larger than the one she’d just escaped from, and returned in time to see her petite roommate stuffing her face with French fries. “Geez, someone’s got an appetite. You eaten today?”
“Yeah,” Claire replied between bites. “I actually already had dinner.” Julie was grabbing a beer from the fridge and she turned to her roommate and raised an eyebrow. Claire raised a bottle of pills in her hands and rattled it loudly. “One, twice a day after meals. It’s some kind of nutritional supplement for the anemic and malnourished vegetarian freaks like you.”
“...but not like you..
“If I’m going to make two grand, it certainly is me now.”
Julie whistled, twisting the top off her beer. “That’s a lot of money to pop pills. You sure you know what you’re in for? I’ve never heard of nutritional supplements making you eat like a pig.”
“I try to ignore the side effects list. It makes me paranoid.”
“I’d worry less about being paranoid, Claire, and more about putting on a dozen pounds, but whatever. Hell, if I had less dignity, perhaps I’d be willing to pop pills and sit on my ass all day.”
“Hey, I checked into the lab at least three times already this week. I’ve also got to head to the post office to mail that Jade necklace I just sold for a cool $450.”
Lauren rolled her eyes. “First of all, nailing that sexy grad student at the clinic hardly counts as “checking into the lab.” Second, you make twelve grand a year on being a lab rat and selling gifts from your booty calls on eBay. I’m sure your parents are proud.”
“You make me sound like the prostitute from lab 16. I date men who happen to be very giving, and I do my part to help further the cause of public health. Besides, I made eight grand doing the same thing last year. That’s a 50% raise.”
“Claire, you can’t do this forever.”
“My twin brother’s on a full ride fellowship at an architectural design school in Italy. It’s up to me to maintain the balance of ambition,” Claire said, wiping ketchup from her mouth. “Besides, I pay my rent every month and I haven’t once asked my parents for money.”
Julie plopped down onto the couch next to her roommate, opening her laptop and settling into her nightly social media routine. “I’m just saying, you’ve got to have bigger aspirations for your life.”
“I’m twenty-three. I’m healthy and in no hurry. Besides, I’ve got valuable reading to do.”
Julie curiously evaluated her roommate for a moment, and smiled. “Fine. Whatever. It’s not like I can throw stones. I dropped out of a pre-med honors program for no discernible reason, and now I’m applying to be a Hooter’s waitress. To most people, that’s textbook failure.”
Julie briefly seemed to consider the question before taking a big swig of her beer and plucking one of the remaining fries from her roommate’s take-out container. “Nope.”
Two Days Earlier
“No, no, no, no. Absolutely not.”
“Please, Seth. I need this!”
“You don’t need this, Claire.”
This argument had been going on for almost an hour, and Seth, despite having his girlfriend wrapped around his body and planting kisses on his neck, was showing little signs of budging.
“I’ve got rent to pay, Seth, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m unemployed.”
“You’re hardly unemployed. You aren’t working, and that’s not the same thing.”
Claire sat back on her side of the futon. “Don’t act like I’m some freeloading whore. These trials are my job, Seth, and I appreciate your help getting me involved. This one is the best one yet. Two thousand dollars!”
“The sheer amount should tell you how serious of shit we’re dealing with, Claire. You’ve gotten what, $200 bucks for the last one? $150 before that? You think we’re paying people two grand just to fuck around?”
“Seth, I need this money!”
“Claire, I’m not saying you couldn’t use the money. Heck, I could use the money. Look at my place!” He gestured around at his dismal, under-furnished, studio apartment. His graduate research assistantship only paid for the bare minimum of amenities, and he didn’t have time for a part time job. “The fact of the matter is that you don’t fit the description of the study. We need people who’ve suffered from anemia due to medically restricted diets.”
Claire’s eyes brightened. “I have suffered from anemia! You can look at my medical records!”
“Yes, because you don’t eat right, not because you can’t.”
“What’s the difference? You need people for this study, don’t you?”
“Claire, you medically don’t fit the bill. You’re five years out of the age range, and we need people on a strictly meatless diet. Even if you started tomorrow, you’d still have it in your system. Hell, you probably still have some of the crap from the last four studies in your system. The results we’d get from you would be questionable at best.”
Claire sat quietly for a moment, before offering, “I don’t need all the money, you know. I could give you half.”
“I’d give you half of the cash. A thousand bucks would pay my share of the rent for the next three months. Don’t tell me you couldn’t use it for, oh, a pair of tires for your car? Food that doesn’t come in a can? ”
Seth thought about his incapacitated 1993 Chevy in the parking lot, as well as his steady diet of beans, rice, and canned vegetables. When he’d been essentially living on four hundred dollars a month, a thousand dollars would be a godsend. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
“I know you need it. I know I need it. It’s just not worth the risk. The answer is no.”
“Okay, you have to promise to stay of any and all animal products, and you’ll have to drink this diuretic supplement for until Thursday to clear your system. I think I can pass you for eighteen if you—can I have my shirt?”
Claire smiled and fished his shirt from the side of the bed. “This means a lot to me Seth,” she said, letting the bed sheet covering her body fall away. “Whatever you need me to do.”
Seth let his eyes ride her roller coaster of curves, and let a small grin appear. “I guess there’s no harm done, we do need more volunteers.” His grin started to fade as he thought more about his predicament. “God, Claire. If you mess up the experiment the department could lose grant money, I could lose my scholarship, hell, I’ll get exp.—”
“Shh,” Claire said, getting up and placing a finger on his lips, before letting her hands travel to the back of his neck, then lower. “Seth, you can trust me. You’re really doing me a huge favor,” Claire pressed herself against him and whispered in his ear, “...and I won’t mess this up for you.”
Seth bit his lip, silently kicking himself for his inability to resist the girl wrapped around him. There was no way he wouldn’t regret this, he had nearly worked up the nerve to argue again, but as he felt his shirt drop away from his body and onto the floor, his concerns with the situation seemed to melt away as he blissfully floated back onto the bed.
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
It was all Claire wanted and the last thing she was getting. Jitters kept her from lying still longer than a minute at a time. There’s a certain point when you’ve been up half the night where just giving up on sleep just seems like the more attractive option to sticking out the battle and losing. Of course, feeling as shitty as she did, there was no attractive option. She couldn’t tell if she was hungry, full, both, or neither.
The burger. It had to be the burger.
This was all the more frustrating since she’d done everything Seth had instructed her to do. She’d taken the damned diuretics that made her spend more time on the toilet for the last 48 hours than she even wanted to think about. She’d even started out pretty well, eating almost entirely veggies, and peanut butter sandwiches for the last two days. Regardless, she knew she wouldn’t last. Not only did she have almost no willpower or self-restraint, it was too soon. Meat was still in her system—still in her head. Claire hadn’t told Julie about the real restrictions of her diet, perhaps in a type of subconscious sabotage. Either way, she was doomed from the get go.
---One Day Earlier---
Claire scanned the room for familiar faces, but found none. She had made a few acquaintances in the lab rat circle, but none of those she knew had the connections to worm their way into this particular study. Not seeing anyone she knew, she opted to take a seat next to a pasty, dark-haired guy who appeared to be about eighteen and—despite being moderately tall—probably about her weight. The young man’s posture stiffened a bit when she sat down, but he also smiled awkwardly which let her know her presence was welcome.
In fact, to Phil Rehdenger, Claire’s presence was much more than welcome. It was what Phil had been hoping for from the moment he saw her waiting outside the clinic when they had been the first two to arrive. Claire had been on her phone. Not wanting to seem intrusive, Phil retreated to his car, only to find himself fighting the urge to ogle her like a stalker. Now, she was sitting down next to him and he was struggling to work up the courage to ask her name. Unfortunately, just as he opened his mouth to greet her, a clinician spoke up.
“On behalf of Northshore Health and Science Clinic, we would like to thank you for participating in this study. This supplement is designed to maintain a proper nutrient level for those with extreme food allergies as well as those who maintain medically restricted diets. Specifically, this treatment is intended for strict vegans and it is of the utmost importance that all of those involved have diets entirely devoid of meat and animal byproducts.”
As much as Phil wanted to be a part of this study, he had to consciously fight the urge to bolt from the room. It was his first medical trial and the whole idea of putting untested drugs (untested on humans, anyways) in his body was unsettling. In fact, he’d barely gotten any sleep the night before, imagining all types of wild scenarios, all of which basically ended in his death. In fact, the more he heard about the procedure, the more nervous he got, and he fought to keep the cup of water in his hand from trembling.
“...your brain regulates various involuntary processes. Some, like breathing, you can consciously disrupt and others, like your heartbeat, you can’t. This treatment essentially reprograms your chemical regulatory system through a combination of hypnosis, vitamin supplements, and electronic modification of the brain waves. Our program has already successfully treated a number of diabetic patients by effectively re-programming their biochemistry to properly produce insulin.”
In spite of his fear, Phil knew this treatment could change his life. A lifelong celiac, in his teens he developed lactose intolerance which eventually gave way to a kidney and digestive disorder that led to him eliminating meat, soy, peanuts, and MSG. While he’d learned to live on his diet of fruits, vegetables, and vitamin supplements, he still had difficulties with anemia and his doctor had pointed to this study as an opportunity to both improve his nutrient intake and get back on some of the foods he missed from childhood.
“...this focus group allows us to test the procedure’s application in handling the body’s nutrient intake. We’re beginning with strictly vegetarian and vegan diets. Without going into too many details, meat brings in too many variables that we aren’t quite ready to handle yet.”
Phil tried to stay focused, but he couldn’t keep his mind off of the blonde seated next to him. Where he could barely pry his eyes away from her, she only barely acknowledged him. He badly wanted to speak up and introduce himself, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak. He told himself that he didn’t want to interrupt the speaker, but in actuality he was painfully shy. This shyness was reinforced by years of feeling like an outsider with weird medical issues. The blonde's low cut shirt certainly wasn’t helping either, and his eyes couldn’t help but continue to drift downward to her flaring hips and toned legs in form-fitting pants.
“...as always, please be advised,” Phil watched the girl subtly mouth along with the warning that she seemed to have committed to memory. “While all precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of all participants, this is a medical trial. Northshore Health and Science Clinic will not be held responsible for any undesired permanent side effects.” Phil looked down at the paperwork in front of him and signed the papers quickly while he still had his resolve.
“I’ll give you all a five-minute break while we prep the first treatment,” the lead clinician announced, wrapping up. “Feel free to help yourself to the fresh organic fruit and vegetables, and talk to one of the lab assistants if you have any questions. “We’ll then begin calling you alphabetically, by last name.”
Phil figured he had at least a half hour before getting called, but he couldn’t guess about the girl. With his luck, her last name would be “Aardvark.” Still riding the confidence high from having the courage to sign the paperwork, he shuffled a seat closer to the girl, who didn’t look up. He was at a loss for good pick up lines, but the worst she could do is blow him off.
She looked at him, her expression soft and her blue eyes bright. “Just lookin’ for some drugs, you?”
Phil grinned, “Ditto.”
There was a pause, and Phil was determined not to let the air out of the moment. “I’m Phil,” he said, extending his hand.
“Claire.” She lightly shook his hand and Phil was momentarily distracted by the v-neck tremors set in motion by their handshake. His mind searched for a conversation topic.
“I have a bone condition,” he said suddenly. There was another pause, and Claire looked slightly amused. “I...I mean I haven’t had a lot of food options with my bone condition. If this works out, it could be really good for me.”
“That’s great!” Claire chimed with genuine sincerity, “you must be really excited.”
“I dunno, I feel like I lost my faith in Western medicine years ago.”
“Aw, hey. I know people who’ve done some trials here and the results have been good.” Claire was really referring more to herself, as she herself had been a part of several medical successes through her participation in NHSC drug trials. At the same time, she also knew of a fair number of misfires, one of which had left her with a rash on her neck that, fortunately, had healed into what appeared to be a large birthmark. Phil didn’t need to know about that, though.
“My friend works for the clinic and invited me into this study, how’d you hear about it?”
“My doctor,” Phil said, feeling comfortable opening up about his medical history. Claire’s light-heartedness was putting Phil at ease, which was good, given his lifelong struggles with the opposite sex. Brittle bones and clammy skin weren’t much of a chick magnet. This girl was certainly pale and lean, but hardly—he tried not to let his eyes drift downward—unhealthy.
“What do you do for a living, Phil?”
“I’m working on my AA degree over at NCC. I’m hoping to transfer to the Computer Science program at Northshore University, you?”
“Waitress,” Claire replied.
“Really? That’s cool, I guess. Where do you waitress?”
Claire grinned and rolled her eyes. “Hooters, on 72nd Ave.”
Phil immediately choked on his water, and Claire giggled. She had immediately picked up on Phil’s awkwardness, and a little devil inside her felt the need to toy with him a bit. “Um, that’s...um.” Phil continued to search for words, but only stammered.
Claire touched his arm. “Phil, I’m kidding.” Phil still looked uncomfortable, so Claire decided to bear the burden of embarrassment for awhile. “Ok, I’m not entirely kidding. I worked at Denny's for a few months last year. Without spilling too much, let’s just say it was an unpleasant experience.”
“Well that’s good,” Phil said, still recovering. Claire raised an eyebrow, and Phil’s eyes went wide. “No! Wait! That’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean that I’m glad you had a bad time, I meant that I’m glad you, uh—”
Claire held a hand up. “I learned a lot about myself, and I learned that there are some things that really aren’t worth shit money, no matter how well some people may tip you.” Phil still looked uncomfortable, so Claire decided to bridge back to familiar territory. “I did meet some nice people though. My roommate started and quit around the same time I did. She actually just turned in her application to Hooters today. I also met the friend that recommended this study to me when he dropped in for a Grand Slam breakfast. I've been unemployed since I quit that hellhole, so between my chronic iron and cash deficiencies, this study is right up my alley.”
“Claire Albertson,” a clinician in the corner announced, “please come to room two.” Claire tossed her book in her bag, and stood to leave. Compact and curvy—no taller than 5’2” at the most—Phil caught himself letting his eyes widen at her profile. Claire noticed, but didn’t seem to mind.
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Phil.” Claire sauntered away, leaving Phil to admire the way she poured into a pair of yoga pants. “I’ll see you again soon!”
“Yeah, um, thanks,” Phil said, watching her exit. When she was entirely out of sight, he whistled softly to himself and headed over to help himself to the fruit trays.
I wonder if Phil feels as awful as I do right now?
Claire couldn’t imagine so. Unlike herself, Phil actually fit the bill for the study. The memories of Phil and yesterday’s treatment faded as her head detonated into a splitting headache. She squirmed about on the bed, clutching her stomach and hoping, no, praying that she would either vomit or lose consciousness soon. Panic set in.
Oh God, I’m going to die. No, I won’t die. Even worse, I’m going to have to call 911, and they’re going to put me in a hospital, and I’ll have to tell them what happened, and Sean will get expelled, and I’ll get charged a billion dollars because I don’t have fucking health insurance.
Claire wanted to yell for Julie. She wanted to grab her phone and call the police. She wanted to douse herself in ice water. She wanted to retch her body dry. She wanted to do any number of things except writhe in agony on the bed, but unfortunately that’s all she could do. The room felt miles away, yet she felt as if she were too big for the air around her. Her arms and legs were sluggish and heavy,
Claire was on the verge of tears when another sensation hit her like a lightning bolt. Where she had been underwater before, everything was now crystal clear. Every cell in her body and every synapse in her brain now screamed for sustenance. She had to eat—immediately.
She rocketed to her feet and scrambled to the kitchen. She felt her toe hit the corner of the wall with an impact that any other time would be crippling. At the moment, she could think of nothing more important than getting to the fridge. With her first impulse she yanked open the fridge and grabbed a pastry she’d purchased from Starbucks. She took a few bites, which quickly became large chomps. In half a minute she’d wolfed the pastry down. Next came a cold Tupperware of cold spaghetti that she slurped down without silverware.
It was getting worse. The more she ate, the hungrier she seemed to get. First were bananas that she tried to peel but couldn’t peel fast enough, so she bit into the raw fruit and swallowed it in three quick bites and one big gulp. Four bananas later came the milk jug, which she sucked on, relishing the of feeling the cool liquid down her throat. A jar of applesauce was next, shaking the contents of the jar into her mouth, which was only barely big enough. She bit into a block of cheese, and several bites later it was gone as well.
While she was only half-consciously aware of what she was doing, she realized she was running short on prepared or leftover food. Without a second thought, she reached for a jar of pickles. A combination of desperation and haste, the jar slipped from her hands and shattered on the ground. Sobbing convulsively, Claire scrambled to gather the rest of them and stuff them in her mouth, even as she reached with another hand for a jar of jelly. No matter what, she couldn’t get the food in her fast enough, and frustration was killing her, but not stopping her. The fridge nearly empty, Claire dragged herself to her feet and reached for the cabinets.
Julie tried to ignore the tossing and turning coming from Claire’s room as well as the multiple trips to the bathroom over the past few days. As much as she wanted to say something, she had a standing agreement with her roommate. One rule, Julie. No matter, what don’t judge me. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it. Otherwise, don’t even offer.
She turned over and looked at the clock, catching it just as it read 2:00 AM on the dot. After the mind-numbing interview and the sleazy date, she really just wanted to sleep. She wasn’t in the mood for this.
While she respected her roommate's lifestyle, she also cared about her well-being, and the sounds in the kitchen were almost too much to bear. She Julie’s groans had become whimpers, and eventually full sobs, followed by the unmistakable sound of dishes dropping to the floor. She hadn’t said anything when Claire had broken out into the nastiest rash she’d seen in her life, and she’d stayed quiet when Claire puked her way through a motion-sickness remedy study. Hearing Claire's moaning and wailing in the kitchen, however, was too much. Julie rocketed out of bed and nearly pulled her bedroom door off its hinges. The lights in the apartment were off, and only the soft light of the refrigerator lit the kitchen.
Claire was sobbing hysterically on the kitchen floor, next to the wide open kitchen door. The fridge was nearly cleaned out, its contents either consumed or emptied onto the ground, contributing to casserole of items strewn about. Claire had obviously sampled nearly everything in the fridge, and from the looks of it, the cabinets too. Everything from milk cartons and Tupperware containers, to margarine tubs and what was left of a pickle jar was strewn about with hardly a trace of edible food left.
“Claire? Sweetie? You okay?” Julie asked, slowly approaching her. Claire was still sobbing loudly, curled on the floor. Julie could hear Claire protesting softly at Julie’s presence, but it was mostly unintelligible. Julie stopped approaching, and calmly urged Claire to turn over. Claire seemed to protest initially, but eventually she rolled all the way over in the direction of her roommate.
What Julie saw made her take a step back.
Claire was paler than usual and her eyes were bloodshot. Her shirt was decorated in stains and wet with perspiration, but Julie barely noticed any of these things as she was drawn to Claire’s swollen belly which protruded from under her shirt like a second term pregnancy.
“Shit! Jeez! Claire. What the hell happened?” Julie wasn’t sure what to do or say. Claire, who had shown few signs of telepathy up to this point, slowly let a chilling grin creep across her face. Against her mind’s impulse—which was screaming for her to run—Julie began approaching Claire, being careful to avoid broken glass.
“I’m so hungry, Jules.” Claire had stopped sobbing, and while she was no longer hysterical, her voice seemed to come from another world.
“Claire,” Julie said, crouching down beside her, unable to pry her eyes away from her friend, “I think you need help.”
“Nooooo,” Claire purred. “I’m just hungry.”
“Claire,” Julie reached for her phone, “I’m going to call the—”
“NO!” Claire lashed out and grabbed Julie by the collar with a force so sudden it jerked her over, twinging her back. Julie yelped loudly, but Claire maintained her grip, like a vice holding her firmly in place. Claire’s strength was almost inhuman, and this wasn’t helping Julie keep her cool. She placed her hand over Claire’s and tried to persuade Claire to loosen her grip.
“Don’t call anyone, Jules. Nobody.” Claire’s voice was soft but firm.
“I won’t, Claire, but please let go of me.”
“What do you need, Claire?”
“Take me to bed, Jules. I want to sleep.”
Julie paused, and took in the scene in the kitchen and the sight of her friend who seemed to hover near cunonsciousness. She was no medic, but Claire seemed to be calmer. The sight of the bloated belly was nearly making Julie sick, but she gave in.
“Okay Claire. I’ll help you get to bed, but I'll check on you first thing in the morning.”
Claire smiled softly, almost euphoric. Her right hand rubbed her exposed belly. “Yay!” Julie pulled her near dead-weight friend to her feet and began the arduous task of dragging Claire to her bed.
The next morning, Julie felt hung over.
By the time she’d dragged Claire to her own room and dumped her in the bed, it was 2:45 AM. She had set outside Claire’s room for a bit, but all she heard was tossing and turning sprinkled with light giggles until snoring set in around 3:30. Once she got back to her room she lay and watch the minutes tick by, reaching around 5:30 before her body began to finally wind down from the adrenaline. It was now 9:17, and there was a racket coming from the bathroom. Julie clenched her teeth and pushed her dark hair out of her face, before pulling herself out of bed to check on Claire.
Part of her was thrilled to hear the sounds of her roommate up and about. On the other hand, considering the delirium she had seen Claire in, she was afraid of what she would find. Fortunately, the voice that spoke up was more familiar than the one she heard last night.
“Claire? Is that you in there?”
“Um, yeah. Sort of.”
“Sort of? Are you okay?” Julie pressed her ear against the door.
“I’m not sure. I guess so?” There was a brief silence.
“God, Claire I thought you were going to die last night. I’m so glad to hear you’re okay.”
“You are okay, aren’t you Claire?”
“Julie, I don’t quite know how to say this.”
“You didn’t puke all over the bathroom, did you.”
“No, but I feel like I should.”
“Did all your hair fall out or something?”
“Well what is it?”
There was a pause. “I’m bigger.”
“Bigger?” Julie furrowed. “Well, considering the couple gallons of food you put away last night, that’s not surprising.”
“Not fatter, Jules. Bigger.”
Claire stepped out of the bathroom and Julie felt the color wash from her face.
Claire’s figure had always swelled in the right places. In the undersized t-shirt and shorts, her curves bulged. A stretch tee that had been snug on her before, was now struggling to contain her. Her breasts tugged the collar down and exposed the hem around her midriff. Unbuttoned jean shorts substituted for too-small undergarments, just barely covering the essentials. A red line under her bellybutton indicated that she’d tried other undersized underwear before settling on none.
“Taller, bigger. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Julie shut her eyes tightly and opened them again, expecting that for some reason things would change. “How, um, big are you?”
“I’m a tick under five foot five. Believe me, I've measured quite a few times.”
Julie closed the distance between them until only a couple feet separated them. At five foot ten, the nearly three-inch gain for Claire was dramatic. Despite Claire being still being significantly shorter, such a dramatic gain in such a short time along with the small clothes on Claire's already full figure made the changes all the more exaggerated. Claire seemed to still be in shock, and reacting similarly to her taller roommate’s new relative height to her own.
“How could this happen?” Claire said softly. “What could do this?”
Realization hit Julie like an uppercut. “Last night!”
“Yes ‘last night.’ Your crazy eating binge. What else could it be?”
Claire seemed confused. “Eating binge? You mean, that happened?”
“What the hell, Claire? Did you forget? Last night you ate pretty much everything in the whole damned kitchen. When I found you looked like a damned alien was going to burst from you! I don’t even think what you did last night should even be possible.”
Claire let a few fingers brush against her exposed midriff which, if anything, bulged a little less than usual. “It’s weird. I barely even remember that. Last I remember, I was laying in bed.”
“You don’t remember anything?”
“I guess kind of, but if anything it’s like a weird dream. One I barely even remember, at that.”
“God, Claire. I wish I could forget it. It was like some shit straight out of The Exorcist. It wasn’t even like you. It was like you were…an animal or something.” Julie looked up, surprised that Claire met her eyes. They held eye contact for a moment before Claire looked away and down.
“Don’t tell anyone, Jules.”
Julie’s mouth fell open. “Claire, are you kidding!? You nearly died! For all we know you still might!”
Claire grabbed Julie's wrist suddenly. “Julie,” she spoke slowly. “Don’t. Tell. Anyone."
Julie saw a brief flash of the Claire from the previous night, but she wasn’t sure if was real or a terrifying recollection. Claire saw the reaction and immediately softened. “Sweetie, I’m not threatening you or anything. I want to talk to Seth at the clinic first. They designed the treatment, after all.”
Julie’s lips tightened, and then relaxed. “Claire, just take care of yourself. This is not remotely natural and it just gives me a bad feeling.” Julie took a slow breath. “I’ve said my piece. I’m going to trust you to take care of yourself from here on out. Just try to go easy on my nerves, okay?”
“Claire.” Julie’s voice was almost icy. Claire looked up.
“Good.” Julie smiled. “Now, let's get you some clothes. You look like a whore.”
I wonder if Claire feels as great as I do right now?
For the first time in years, Phil woke up feeling rested and refreshed. He still stuck to his normal restricted diet, but even his rice cake with sliced fruit seemed to satisfy him more than it ever had in the past. The results were everything he hoped they could be, and he was anxious to report the news. In fact, he looked forward to his “morning after” check-in at the clinic about as much as he was dreading his visit the previous day.
He pulled into the lot at the clinic, which was nearly empty on a Saturday. Despite the previous night’s torrential downpour the sun was out and the weather was pleasant. He recognized a few of the folks from the study in the parking lot, and he imagined how thrilled he would be to see Claire again. As great as he felt this particular morning, he might even have the confidence to ask her out for lunch.
A loud screeching jolted Phil to attention as an old white sedan cut him off, missing him by inches. He was shaken, but not too angry, particularly when he noticed a wonderfully familiar streak of blonde hair in the driver's seat. He took his time to see where she was parking, which appeared to be the first spot she came across. He pulled in directly across from her.
Claire leaped out of her car, stumbling a bit into the car next to her. Barreling out from between the spaces, she nearly shrieked when Phil suddenly appeared. Phil opened his mouth to speak, but found it hanging open as he took in the sight of the girl in front of him. She was, if anything, more beautiful than he remembered. He remembered her being curvy, but now she seemed to erupt with allure. In the meantime, the panic that flashed on Claire’s seemed to indicate that he’d attacked her with a chainsaw. While not sure what to make of the reaction, Phil stuck to his guns. “Hi Claire!”
A flash of recognition hit her. “Oh! You!”
“Yes! Phil. Hi!”
“Claire.” Phil could practically see himself grinning like an idiot.
“Um, I didn’t expect to see you.” Claire said, shaking her head and seemingly clearing her thoughts. “Uh... how are you?”
“Great!” Phil beamed. “I really feel great, you?”
Claire looked at Phil carefully, and realized that she actually hadn’t spent enough time standing next to him for the difference in their heights to be too striking. This didn’t stop Phil from staring, and she had no problem imagining why. She was used to attracting attention, and her skintight t-shirt and painted on stretch jeans certainly stepped it up a bit.
“Honestly, I’m feeling a bit off today. Sorry for startling you,” Claire said. “It’s nice to see you, Phil.” Claire smiled softly, and Phil grinned ear to ear, looking every bit eighteen years old. Dear God, Claire thought, he’s a baby. Of course, she knew that the study was aimed at kids specifically between age sixteen and eighteen. She couldn’t slight Phil for being young when he had no reason to believe that she was five years too old for the study they were in.
“Would you like to grab a bite to eat?” Phil asked.
Claire wasn’t expecting this and it threw her for a loop. “Thanks Phil, but right now I really need to...”
“Not now,” Phil blurted. “Maybe tomorrow?”
Claire felt a bit stuck. She didn’t want to lead the kid on, but she he didn’t seem like a bad kid. She wasn’t exactly single, though she wasn’t exactly dating Seth as much as occasionally fucking him. She figured there’d be no harm in a casual coffee date.
“You’ve got to check in again on Monday, right? How about Monday morning, beforehand?”
Phil could have done a backflip. “Monday morning at nine?”
Claire grinned at Phil’s enthusiasm. “Sure, how about Beantown? It’s a cafe about two blocks from here.”
Phil had no idea where Beantown was and didn’t drink coffee. “Absolutely!”
“I’ve got to go Phil. I’ll see you Monday.” Claire turned to hustle to the clinic, leaving still standing in his spot, his mind swimming in unbridled joy.
“Oh fuck,” was all Seth could think to say.
When Claire had told him she’d been involved in “a few medical studies” already, it hadn’t set off alarms, particularly since he had administered most of them. Upon being presented with Claire three inches taller holding a two-page single-spaced list of medical studies she’d participated in over the last three years—some under alternate aliases—Seth not only began to question his field of study for the first time in his life, but his sanity as well. In the meantime, Claire sat sheepishly on examination table.
“Gross-saft, Progenitorivox, Solon, Claritin-F...Claire, why didn’t you tell me you had been doing so many medical trials?”
Claire shrugged. “I didn’t think it mattered.”
“Didn’t think it mattered? These are fucking drug trials, Claire! It’s the precise reason we have warning labels on medicine bottles.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Warning, may cause demonic food binges and sudden growth spurts. Sorry, I’m not familiar with that one.” Seth slapped his hands to his face and groaned, and Claire felt guilty. “Ok, ok, Seth. Let’s look on the bright side. Can’t this be considered a desirable side effect? Can you imagine the demand for this?”
This only seemed to further frustrate Seth. “Claire, first of all, you fucked up the study from the get go by eating a damned cheeseburger when the first thing we asked was to avoid meat and animal by products!”
Claire pouted. “I was hun...”
“Secondly,” Seth cut her off, “I haven’t the slightest idea what combination of drugs, diet, or body chemistry could have caused this. This very likely is not a reaction to just meat, but rather a number of elements, and it’s going to take me a little while to figure it out.”
“I didn’t mean to...”
“Lastly,” Seth sighed, “and most importantly, we’ve got to keep this quiet until I figure out whether this is going to land me a prison sentence or the Nobel Prize.”
“Keep this quiet? Who am I going to tell?”
“You told your roommate.”
“Given the circumstance, it probably would have been hard for her not to notice something was up.”
“Whatever, Claire. Whether you told her or not isn’t really the point. What I’m saying, as weird as it sounds, is don’t grow any more.”
“I don’t even know how it happened the first time.”
“Anything that you even remotely think could have caused it, don’t do it. In fact, if I could ask you to only consume brown rice and water from here on out, I’d opt for that.” Claire grimaced in response to the suggestion. “Listen, come to the check-in on Monday morning and I’ll be sure that I’m the one that administers your next treatment. Given the nature of what we’re doing, we can’t afford to stop now.”
“What if I grow again?” Seth was quiet, clearly not quite ready to consider it, though they both knew it was a very real possibility.
“We’ll deal with it.”
The whole conversation clearly grated on Seth’s nerves, with good reason, so Claire dropped it. “So what do we do in the meantime?” Claire asked, plopping down from the table.
“In the meantime,” Seth said, turning away from her to rifle through a few drawers, “I take your vitals and a bunch of blood and get busy trying to figure out what in the holy hell could have caused this.”
Claire folded her arms. “I hate giving blood.”
Seth clenched his teeth for what had to have been the hundredth time this hour. “Well you should have thought of that before you started growing.”
Claire pouted again, before a thought occurred to her. “Do I still get paid?”
Seth sighed in frustration. “We’ll proceed as normal with the study. You’re still registered, so yes, Claire, you still get paid.”
“Well, that’s good at least,” she said. Claire felt a bit guilty about upsetting Seth. Besides his looks, one of the things she liked about him was his intelligence and the sheer enthusiasm he had for his work. While they weren’t exactly a steady couple, she enjoyed their occasional flings. Of course, one of their flings is what had gotten her into this study and, in turn, the pickle they were currently in. Seth was good at what he did, but this typically came at the price of a high stress level. Claire loved being the one to get him to relax, and she wanted badly to help him out right now.
Up to this point, Claire hadn’t really given much thought to her changes. She’d never really felt self-conscious about her height. 5’2” was short, but hardly tiny. She was only a few inches taller, but she found herself surprised at what a difference three inches could make. She’d outgrown some of her clothes, and she even felt a bit more confident. She’d certainly never been taller than any of her boyfriends, though she still was just a bit shorter than Seth in her bare feet.
“What, Claire?” Seth said, impatiently looking for a blood drawing needle.
“Out of curiosity, how tall are you?”
“169 centimeters or five-foot six and a half, why?”
Claire giggled. “Well that explains a lot.”
Seth turned around, “What’s that supposed to m...” Seth trailed off as he was faced with Claire--standing five foot eight in her heels--looking down at him.
“It explains why I like these shoes so much.” Claire purred, approaching Seth until she was close enough to tilt her head down slightly at him. A wry smile escaped from her lips as she straightened up a bit and admired the way she even seemed to cast a slight shadow over him. Just as she thought, she felt a slight thrill at her new perspective.
Seth felt something of a thrill as well, accompanied with just a twinge of fear. This was hardly the first time that Claire had sprung impromptu seduction on him (perhaps the third or fourth time), but this encounter seemed to have a markedly different feeling. That said, it wasn’t enough for him to stop her.
“You know, Seth, I would never have deliberately done anything to upset you.”
Seth swallowed, “but you did.”
Claire took Seth by the hand, “I didn’t do it to upset you, Seth. I really couldn’t help it. It was like I lost control of myself. In fact, I barely remember.” There was nothing but sincerity in her eyes, Seth noticed, though perhaps a twinge of something else that didn’t quite sit as well with him.
“Look, Claire,” Seth said, anger now absent from his voice. “None of this should have even happened. It’s not your fault, I shouldn’t have even let you into this study.”
“But you did, and I thank you for everything.” She craned her neck up and kissed him softly on the forehead, a new experience for them both. “It’s funny Seth, I never thought of you as short before.”
Seth looked up at her. He wanted to feel self-conscious about her comment, but he didn’t. “I’m statistically below the average male height, actually,” he replied.
“What about me?”
“Um, I believe five foot four is the average female height.”
“But I’m five foot five now, and five foot eight with these shoes.”
Claire straightened up again with pride. “Ah, so I’m above average.”
“Yes!” The word seemed to leap from his mouth.
Claire smiled bigger, “What about, five foot...eight?”
“That would be an inch shy of average male height.”
Claire pressed closer to him, allowing her breasts to smoosh against his sternum, grazing the underside of his chin. “Seems like the perfect height to me.”
“Claire, I...” Claire cut him off by taking his head in her hands and planting a firm kiss on his lips. As her hands snaked into his short, unkempt hair, Seth couldn’t believe how amazing Claire felt around him. At the same time, Claire was reeling with the control she felt in the situation. She knew better than to think she were actually stronger than Seth, but she couldn’t help but feel that she was overpowering him. It gave her an unexpected thrill. Seth gripped her arms firmly and suddenly separated them, though he wasn’t exactly sure why he had done so.
Claire impatiently sighed heavily in between them. “Yes or no, Seth?”
Seth took a moment to consider the question before abruptly answering, “yes.”
Claire’s smiled mischievously down at Seth, and she shoved him roughly to the wall . “Good, then let me show you how sorry I am for all the stress I’ve caused you.” She took a quick glance over her shoulder. “Is that door locked?”
Claire peeled her shirt up and over her head, and Seth’s jaw dropped at the sight of Claire’s boobs stuffed into a lacy blue bra that only barely contained her new growth. “Jesus, are you—?”
“Bigger there too?” She reached behind and unhooked her bra. It fell to the ground, letting her breasts wobble free. They were magnificent, hanging like two massive teardrops. “The measuring tape says I’ve gone from DD to E.” She pressed into Seth again, letting them flatten against his chest. “But I’ll let you be the judge of that.”
Seth again savored the plushness of Claire’s breasts pressed against him. He embraced her bigger body, taking in her scent as her nimble fingers unzipped his fly and slithered into his pants. As Claire arched her back, Seth buried his face in the cleavage that cradled his chin. Claire moaned with pleasure as he took a handful of each and licked them. She enjoyed letting him explore them for a while, before crouching down and doing some oral exploration of her own.
Seth was in heaven. As amazing as his occasional flings with Claire were, this was something entirely different. He imagined how rare the experience was for a guy to experience a lover at two different heights--two different sizes! It was like the passion had a whole different flavor. Even as his mind began falling backward into sexual bliss, he was still pondering how he might crack the mystery of Claire’s mysterious growth spurt.
Perhaps I might learn more by replicating the effect...
It wasn’t the first time Claire had sex on the floor, but it was certainly the first time she had great sex on the floor. She let herself stretch out, arching her back and stretching her arms above her head. Her joints popped a bit and she relished feeling of the cool tile against her back until the realization that she was completely naked on the floor of a university lab hit her. She found her t-shirt at her feet, and dragged it towards her with her toes.
Seth had konked out completely. The clock on the wall read 10:45, and Claire savored the knowledge that she and Seth had fucked for over an hour. She always admired Seth for his stamina, which meant she could always get her fill from him. For the first time, however, she felt that she’d not only bested him in stamina, but felt like she’d nearly held her own in strength as well, which she thought was strange.
I guess all those long hours in the lab are taking their toll on him.
Claire wobbled a bit getting to her feet, as the hour of rigorous cardio had left her a bit sore. This didn’t help the fact that she had to shake and shimmy herself into her borrowed jeans, and she cursed a bit under her breath as she tugged them onto her body. She’d borrowed them from Julie, who while still taller than Claire by a bit, didn’t remotely measure up to Claire in the curves department. She’d nearly gotten the jeans around her hips when a seam along right leg popped open, exposing a nearly half a foot of her thigh. She was surprised at how easily the seam surrendered, but didn’t think much of it.
After getting herself decent, Claire tossed around the idea of waking Seth, but opted instead to let him rest. She could always come back to the lab later. Claire took a step to leave the lab when her stomach growled loudly. It took Claire by surprise, and she rubbed her taut belly with her other hand. She took another step towards the door only to have an even louder growl erupt from her belly, powerful enough for her to nearly feel the reverberations in her legs.
“Oh my god...” she said, bending over and clutching her stomach. She knew she would never make it to her car, let alone anywhere she could find and purchase food. If she didn’t eat, however...well she didn’t really want to think about that. Her stomach rumbled again.
“...the hell is that sound?” Seth was gathering his bearings and looked up in time to catch Claire in a state of panic.
“Seth! I need to eat.”
Having had the morning to digest Claire’s situation, Seth settled into his practical, scientific problem-solving mode. He took a moment to mull things over, before starting toward her and dropping off his lab coat. “We haven’t got a lot of time. Take off your pants.”
Claire was exasperated. “We’ve done that already! Twice!”
“No, no, not that. But seriously, take off your jeans. We don’t have a lot of time”
Claire shuffled over, hopping as she slipped out of the clothes she had just peeled on moments earlier. When she’s completed the maneuver, she approached Seth, only to be quickly spun around by him and felt a sharp pain in her right buttock. “Ow!” she shrieked. What the fu...”
“Not now, Claire,” Seth said, cutting her off. He tossed his lab coat at her. That’s going to help me draw some data from you later. In the meantime, I need you to listen carefully....”
Matt, a fellow graduate assistant burst into Lab 4, to find his colleague busy at work.
“Seth! What the hell are you doing?”
“I just finished with Claire Albertson from the GST607 study, and now I’m doing Friday’s bloodwork, why?”
His colleague gave him a once over, noticing his disheveled appearance. “Are you okay?”
“Um, yeah. Is something up?”
“You look a mess, man. Were you attacked?”
“No. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, that’s all...wait, attacked?”
“Yeah man, someone broke in.”
“Broke in? Was anything stolen?”
“It don’t know man.” Matt led Seth towards the back break room. “I just finished up with that skinny kid--Phil, I think. Anyways, I was heading back here to grab a bite and I found this.”
Seth and the Matt stepped into the break room to be greeted with the sight of a tipped over vending machine. The glass was broken and there were wrappers strewn about everywhere, but not one morsel of food was left.
“I hadn’t come back here yet, wow.” Seth said. “Some stoners after junk food I guess.”
“They must have been high on more than pot, check this out.” Matt gestured to a trail of snack wrappers which led to the rear exit door which had been forced open. The latch had been torn from the wood and there was even a dent on the door where it had unquestionably been struck.
“You know as well as I do that no one can use this door without a key card. They must have been on some serious shit to do this kind of damage.”
Matt was quiet for a moment. “Damn, this a hell of a mess. Matt, why don’t you check the Jensen Lab and see if there’s any damage there. I’ll call campus safety.”
“You sure, man? Whoever did this might still be around.”
“There’s nowhere else for them to go. Besides, you got here earlier than I did, and you aren’t going to get any extra cash for overtime. You may as well get going.”
“Sure man, no prob,” Matt said after a moment. He took another look at the door, and headed back to the labs.
Seth waited a minute, listening for the sound of Matt leaving. He muttered a few quiet curses before walking calmly, but briskly, to his grad office. He slipped in to find Claire seated on floor surrounded by food wrappers and stuffing candy bars into her mouth along with a large handful of beef jerky. She wore only a large lab coat with the straining top buttons buttoned and pink underwear that were barely visible under her bulging stomach, which hung over the waistline. Seth took a moment to survey the spectacle.
“I told you to open the back door with my card, not obliterate it. What the hell did you hit it with, anyways?”
“Mmm,” Claire responded without looking up.
“Also, I gave you the key to the vending machine, Claire. You didn’t have to tip it over.”
“Ah wush shtarfin,” Claire replied, her cheeks stuffed with food like a chipmunk. Seth shook his head, not knowing what to make of the scene. Claire crammed the last of the food into her mouth and laid back against the wall. She gulped the last of the food in her mouth, and ran her food-stained hands along her belly. “Ugh, I’m a mess.”
“Outside of the Santa belly, you look just as charming as ever,” Seth said, shutting and locking the door behind him. He sat in the chair next to Claire and began sticking electrodes to her body, noticing that her skin was notably warm to the touch. He’d considered warning her, but she was barely coherent, let alone argumentative.
“What’re ya’ doing?” Claire drawled.
“I’m monitoring your vitals, as well as your metabolism and brain chemistry. I shot you up with a mix of compounds that should have distributed through your system by now and will help give me a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with. Try and relax.”
“M’kay.” Claire shut her eyes, and smiled. “I’m gonna stay awake for it this time.”
“Stay awake, huh? What’s so important?”
“M’gonna grow bigger.”
Claire giggled like a drunk frat girl. “M’gonna get big. You’ll seeeeeeeee,” she drawled again.
Seth attached the last electrode, and glanced at the monitor. Her body temperature was pushing 104 degrees and her heartbeat was racing. He resolved that if either got much higher, he’d be calling paramedics. Just as the numbers started to creep higher and he started to reach for his phone, he heard Claire whisper, “Here....goes.”
In what would become one of the strangest sights of his life, Seth watched as Claire took a huge breath, and her body subtly but distinctly rose upwards and outwards, her arms and neck stretching out of the lab coat. Seth had stopped trying to interpret the bizarre data on his laptop screen, and remained transfixed. He didn’t know if it was her pugnacious curves, her sultry breathing, or perhaps an unnatural pheromone, but he could barely keep himself away from her.
Claire leaned forward, exhaling and clutching her still (but less) expanded belly and letting her cleavage press against the top buttons. This put audible strain on the lab coat which began to give way as Claire took another breath and her body swelled again. Her crossed arms pushed her cleavage upwards, and her breasts rose like bread dough from the open neck of the jacket. While the seams of the lab coat didn’t give way, it was going to take an exact-o-knife to get her out of it. After straining for a few moments with a second growth episode, Claire’s vitals returned to normal. Her belly, which had been massive only minutes earlier, had retreated, its mass seemingly absorbed into her body.
Seth shook his head in disbelief. He tried to estimate her height: her torso alone had lengthened a couple inches. That combined with her legs which logically must have stretched as well, probably equated to a growth spurt of at least four or five inches--well beyond medical possibility even given the large number of calories she had consumed. Claire’s breasts had clearly expanded as well, though they were hard to gauge with their girth pinned both above and below the single jacket button that mashed them down.
Seth squatted down next to her. “Claire?” Her eyes opened into slits and she only muttered softly and grinned.
“Well, holy shit,” Seth sighed.
Phil Redinger felt a few sweat beads roll down his face, and he let the window down as he sat in the front seat waiting for Claire to emerge. His checkup was a pretty routine series of questions and the taking of vitals, but he was curious about a commotion he’d heard on the way out. He stuck around for a few minutes, and though he’d seen his own clinician leave and head toward an adjacent building, he hadn’t seen anyone else leave. He’d hoped to “casually” run into Claire a third time on his way out, but her car was still parked, the other three labs were empty, and she was nowhere to be found.
Phil knew his behavior bordered on obsessive, but there was something about Claire that he couldn’t let go of. He thought about his few encounters that he’d had with her, and how she’d completely enraptured him. Her bright eyes, her soft smile, her hypnotic curves. Just thinking about the way her clothes could barely contain the swooping and diving contours of her body practically made him weak-kneed. Even the way she carried herself—charming, yet aloof—was not only attractive to Phil, but inspiring to a kid who had for so long been the latter, but never the former. He couldn’t help but be drawn to her.
And that’s why he would go in after her.
He couldn’t help running over a number of scenarios in his head. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see her. Maybe we’ll chat again. Maybe she’ll be in the mood for a lunch date. Maybe she’s in trouble! Maybe she’s having a bad reaction to the treatment and I’ll enter just in time to dial the paramedics. Maybe her clinician was trying to take advantage of her and I’ll burst in and hit him with, um, something. I’ll save her and be her hero, and she’d fall in love with me.
This was it. Phil decided he would storm into the clinic and do whatever he could to rescue Claire.
...in a few minutes, when his legs stopped shaking and he was sweating just a bit less.
“Claire. No two ways around it. Your body’s a mess. Whatever you’ve taken over the last couple years—step on the scale please—seems to have set the stage for our treatment to finish the job. A perfect storm of chemical reactions, really.”
“Perfect storm, huh?” Claire said, still somewhat in shock at waking up noticeably taller than she had been before. Seth balanced out the scale as Claire softly pawed at her body, amazed by its sudden and dramatic changes. “This is just...crazy.”
“Tell me about it. I think...hm.” Seth flashed a brief look of puzzlement before returning to normal. He motioned her down from the scale and stretched a tape measure around her waist.
“What is it, Seth?”
“I’ll tell you, in a minute. Claire, how many times would you say you’ve used the restroom in the last few days?”
“The bathroom? Geez, how the heck should I know?”
“I’ve got a hunch it may be a low number, so think. When’s the last time you used the toilet?”
“Um, well...” Claire thought for a moment as Seth continued his measurements, wrapping the tape measure around her chest. “Actually, I can’t remember. God, it’s probably been at least a day.”
“...or two.” Seth finished. “Okay, first thing’s first: it looks like you’re actually growing taller, and not enlarging.”
“Enlarging? What’s the difference?”
“Your head is pretty much the same size as before, and your waist is only minimally wider. It’s the rest of you that’s, well, lengthened. Your legs, for instance, are giving you at least a half of your new height. You’re growing like you’re going through puberty, or like it never stopped really. You’re getting taller and...curvier.”
Claire’s smirked a little. “Curvier?”
“You’re measurements are not proportional to your previous height. On the plus side, you’ll look less like a giant and more like just a tall person. The downside is that this will make it much harder to estimate your height and measurements.” Seth stopped to take down a few more figures. “...it also means you run the risk of gigantism and anemia if your body doesn’t get enough nutrients, though so far your vitals are surprisingly normal.”
“That’s good, I guess,” Claire said, as Seth straightened her against the wall. She felt enormous, as she dwarfed Seth by at least a few inches. Seth marked her height on the wall and took the number down on his pad.
Well Claire, you’re officially 177 centimeters tall. A smidgen over 5’10”
“That’s roughly what I expected, however there’s something else I didn’t expect. You weigh 182 pounds.”
Claire’s eyes went wide and she reddened a bit. She also felt a bit warm. “182? I only weighed, like, 108 when this whole thing started!”
“Claire, you weren’t obese before and you certainly don’t look obese now. Even given your greater height, from what you’ve told me, there’s no reason why your weight should be that high unless...”
Claire wiped some more sweat from her face. “...unless?”
“Unless your body is somehow absorbing all of the food you’re eating, and if that were true, it would mean you’re more dense, rather than...muscle density! Yes, that’s got to be it!”
“Muscle density? But that’s weird, why haven’t I...nnnnggghhhhhh” Claire shuddered suddenly and clenched her abdomen. “Shit,” she hissed between clenched teeth. “This...fucking...hurts.” Seth could only watch with his mouth hanging open as Claire grunted and groaned, her body straining against her already restrictive clothing. She was breathing quickly, almost hyperventilating. “Seth,” Claire whimpered.
This was quickly getting out of hand, and Seth had an impulse to call someone, though he wasn’t immediately sure who. He saw his phone underneath the lab table and he dropped to his knees to retrieve it. “Hang in there! One sec, I’ve got an idea.”
Claire clenched her teeth and brought her hands down to the table as a stabbing pain shot through her body. A loud crashing ripped through the lab like a gunshot, and immediately the pain passed. She opened her eyes and blinked a few times.to find that the thick, oak lab table was broken, a large slat missing from the middle. She then noticed Seth laying still underneath the table.
Claire pushed the large table out of the way to find Seth lying still on the floor. She crouched closer to him, adjusting her clothes that were nearly shrink-wrapped to her body. She started to reach toward him, but immediately recoiled her hand, struck by the fear of what she might have done to him. Her face was blank as looked back and forth between her unblemished hands and the splintered broken table. Then, barely aware of her actions, she abruptly stood to her feet, backed away from Seth, and left the room, closing the door softly on the way out.
For the second time that day, Seth awoke to the now familiar feeling of the lab floor. A phone was vibrating in front of his face, and though his perception was still a little fuzzy, he managed to make out “Claire: Home.” He reached for it and flicked it open.
“Claire? Claire? is that you?” A clearly stressed female voice asked.
Seth scanned the room from his vantage point on the floor. “No, unfortunately not. This is Seth, from Northshore Health and Science Clinic. So I guess you’re not Claire either.”
“I’m not. I don’t suppose she’s with you?”
“Nope, I get the feeling she’s left already, but give me one sec.” Seth pulled himself carefully to his feet, feeling at a wet spot on the back of his head where the slat from the table had struck him. His head was cut, but it was hardly life-threatening, or even serious. He left the lab and scanned the waiting room, the lounge, and the exam rooms, before heading to the front parking lot.
“Her car is here, but I can’t find her.”
“Did you see her? Was she there?”
“Yeah, she was here. Is this Julie?”
“Yeah. So you’re Seth. Cute Seth, from the lab,” Julie recalled with a soft chuckle.
I like her already. Seth smiled, in spite of the bit of blood on his fingers. “Sure. I’ll take that. So if you’re her roommate, that means you were the one who helped her out the other night.”
“I guess. God, that was so weird. I thought she was coming to check in.”
“Well, she did come here, and she did check in.”
“We had an incident—well, a couple really—and she seems to have gone missing.”
“An incident? What happened? Is she okay?”
“She’s quite okay, for now at least. It’d be in our best interests to find her soon, however.” Seth paused for a moment. “You want to come on down, and I’ll get you caught up?”
“To the lab?” Julie sounded surprised.
“Well, sure. You know her better than I do, and I’m not quite ready to get authorities involved. As you might assume, we’ve got a delicate situation on our hands.”
“I’ll be there fast as I can! See you soon!”
“Sure,” Seth said, though he was pretty sure she didn’t hear it. He looked around at the mess he’d made of the lab, with the spilled samples and splintered table. Then there was also the issue of his superhuman booty-call on the loose. As much as he knew he should be concerned, he was preoccupied with other thoughts.
“Cute Seth from the lab, huh?”
“So where do you want to go?” Phil asked, buckling his seat belt.
“It doesn’t matter,” Claire said, looking down. “Just...let’s go.”
Phil started the car without another word. All that mattered was that he had the girl of his dreams in the car with him, and she was ready to go anywhere with him that he wanted. He took one last glance at Claire, taking in her presence. He had all kinds of questions for her, particularly given her appearance, but those could wait until later. He turned toward the road, away from Claire, catching only a quick glimpse of a shiny object in her hands that resembled quarter that had been bent into a smooth curve.
"Seth Dennison and Julie Ravner. Please have a seat."
Julie and Seth sat in silence opposite Dr. Donaldson, head of the Biochemistry department at Northshore Health and Science University. Security had notified him of a "break in" in his lab. When he arrived, a night guard was tending to Seth, who was shaken up, but only mildly injured from a blow to the back of his head. It didn't take long for Dr. Donaldson to connect this to other recent unusual incidents in his department. He was concerned, but not surprised to hear that Claire Albertson—a young woman who popped up way too frequently on his radar—had gone missing.
Julie arrived in time to find Seth being helped to his feet and questioned by campus security. Given the circumstances, she wondered why no paramedics or city police had been called, but before she had the chance to ask or answer any questions herself, Dr. Donaldson ushered her and Seth into his office.
Julie, who only knew of Seth from Claire's descriptions of him, couldn't help but pity him. Seth held an ice pack over the back of his head and slouched in his seat, looking as pale as a man at his own funeral and twice as glum. Dr. Donaldson was a short man, no taller than 5'3" but confident in his demeanor. Various awards, plaques, and certificates decorated the wall behind his desk, including framed photos of him smiling and receiving recognition from who Julie assumed were other prominent scientists. Where he appeared laid-back and friendly in his pictures, he now wore a stone cold expression that had even Julie feeling guilty, and she was hardly even involved. He also looked rather young to be the head of a department—barely thirty, if that.
"Ms. Albertson, her accomplice Phil Redinger, the two of you, and I are the only people who know about this little mishap. If you're wondering about the fate of Ms. Albertson, I can only say that we have proper channels for this sort of cleanup." Dr. Donaldson turned to Julie. "Miss Ravner, as I understand you have seen some of the, shall we say,unpleasant aspects of our clinical trial. We'd like to compensate you with a modest stipend for looking after one of our test subjects. I imagine she caused you some trouble."
"Yeah, you could say that, but only a little."
"Well, we hope this amount will be sufficient." He slid the check across the desk to her. Reading the amount of the check, Julie found it difficult to maintain her composure.
"In exchange," Dr. Donaldson continued, "you will sign an agreement that, under penalty of prosecution and possible imprisonment, you will not share any of what you have seen regarding Ms. Claire Albertson." Julie didn't think twice about it. While she wished Claire the best, she was more than happy to take the payout and leave this whole messy incident behind. She scanned over the short document, signed it without a word, and accepted her check.
"Thank you, Dr. Donaldson."
"And thank you, Ms. Ravner." Julie stood and headed for the door. On her way, she looked over her shoulder at Seth, who had been watching her. She gave him a wave and shook her phone at him. "Call me," she mouthed, before excusing herself and heading out the door.
"Mr. Dennison I am extremely disappointed that you did not come to us sooner when you learned of the complications with your test subject. While I realize that your own personal relationship with Ms. Albertson may have clouded your judgment, in the professional world, recklessness of the sort you've demonstrated could cost you your job, and likely your career."
"This entire matter and your mishandling of it is grounds for immediate expulsion."
"Yes, sir," Seth muttered, almost inaudibly. He clenched his eyes shut in anticipation. "I completely understand."
"Raise your head, Seth. You aren't going anywhere."
"Because, Mr. Dennison, I'm rather impressed with your work on this project. Expelling you over your involvement with Claire Albertson, while well within my right, would be a waste of a valuable resource. It would also be a tad hypocritical since Ms. Albertson snuck into more than a few of our drug trials before this one. While we can blame you for letting her into this particular study when she did not fit the medical profile, I won't slight you for being misinformed on her background."
"Let's chalk it up to the errors of youth. In fact, you remind me a lot of myself when I was young, in more ways than one." Dr. Donaldson paused, allowing himself a moment of nostalgia before continuing. "We'll discuss that another time, perhaps. Right now, Mr. Dennison. Let's plan how we might proceed."
"Yes, indeed. If I'm not mistaken you're sitting on a mountain of data on what may be a breakthrough discovery on human growth. You have her blood, her records, and everything else you need to get cracking on how to replicate it."
"That could take months! Years! Have you seen her records?"
"Indeed, I have. I've also already taken a look at your preliminary analyses. Phenomenal work, if I may say so, myself. I'm particularly impressed with how you've managed to re-synthesize some of the original compounds based purely off of blood and tissue samples."
"That wasn't easy, and I'm still not done. It's going to take forever to sort through all the data."
"Well Mr. Dennison, you'll have all the time you need. As of today, I'm hiring you as a Senior Research Assistant. I already have at least five grants in mind to bolster our efforts on this project . We will have no problem getting all the funding and brainpower we need for us to continue your work. I'll also ensure you're properly compensated, well beyond the pittance you're making now."
Seth couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You're kidding!"
"Absolutely not. Now, don't be mistaken; your responsibilities and workload will multiply tenfold, but based off of what I have seen so far, it is nothing you cannot handle. We'll also have to see about getting you moved to the apartments at the edge of campus. With the work you'll be doing, we're going to need you to have quick and immediate access to the lab, at times on call."
Seth was almost light-headed with excitement and gratitude but managed to keep his composure. "I won't disappoint you, sir."
"You won't disappoint me again. Seth."
"No sir. Definitely not," Seth said, his smile wide with gratitude. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome, and please, call me Steve." Dr. Donaldson stood up and shook Seth's hand. "Now, what do you say we grab a late dinner. I'd like to hear more about this "GS" compound that you may have come across."
"I was wondering about that..."