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Warning: Story may change during the run-through process.
It had felt like years or a lifetime since she had last left the house, Neha using both descriptors interchangeably in her online journal. A journal in which she told the tale of a once-fit and gym-devoted woman who met the man of her dreams, fell in love, found herself pregnant, and then … abandoned. Left with yet-to-be-born baby, but otherwise alone by Mr. Perfect. Her body quickly widening, as a hunger for pickles and ice cream began to ravage her soul, unfulfilled. Well, unfulfilled only until she began to have her groceries delivered by the newly built Whole Foods in her neighborhood.
Yes, the US-born Indian woman could have gone out herself and filled her cart and card with whatever it was she needed. Her job as a popular stay-at-home blogger keeping her well-paid, if not well-sexed — her fans carrying more about her words than her looks. But whenever Neha tried to dress herself or apply her makeup, she found her mascara running, her mirror abandoned, and the keys on her keyboard wet with tears as she wrote of her struggle.
For despite her way with words, Neha had always prided herself on having a pretty face, a stellar body, and particularly delectable breasts. A profile she saw as having wilted, a body she saw as having ballooned, and a bosom which at least in her eyes, seemed to have gotten saggy and fat — tricks of the mind, but still, they wounded.
That conflict, one of self-image vs. reality — of before vs. after, is one all women face when they are with child. But no two cases have ever been as acutely similar as the tales of Neha and her gym rival, Holly. A rivalry more in perception than action — shared hatred more than force. One that began years ago, when one day, their eyes just so happened to land on each other. Each of them sweaty and pressing their weights as hard as they could, for as long as they could stand. And though they had each beforehand been failing and ready to give in, they held. Finding something in just the sight of the other that pushed them to resist their weakness, and fight their desire to be less than they desired.
Such inspiration, if jealousy could be called such a thing, led them to search for one another whenever they went back to their place of body-toning and figure-building. Knowing that by seeing the other, they could work out harder, longer, and build themselves until they had surpassed she who held their gaze. And though at first, it was only proximity they required, before long, they grew to share the same routines, the same machines, and even workout clothes, so that their every curve could be more easily graded.
And so it was that day in and day out, Neha and Holly let their idle eyes look to each other as they exercised. Each of the two studying and comparing their bodies. Every inch of exposed skin examined and every curve measured and analyzed with the most judgmental of intentions. Deft though each became at such tests and reviews, eventually their little game became known.
Known, and then resented. Understood, and then responded to. Each flaunting their bodies for the other. Teasing and tormenting. Challenging and daring without words, until even those became necessary. A mutual compulsion which pushed each to mutter at their every passing and hiss at their every encounter.
Encounters which began as accidental, but soon became anything but. Each of the two using whatever excuse they could to meet between sets. Not to chit-chat or commiserate, but to insult and challenge. Those hidden meetings quickly becoming the spark they each required to get through not just their workouts but their days. A spark they began to covet. Meetings they began to need.
Despite that shared and desperate need to meet, where others could not see or hear, neither or Holly or Neha ever dared to touch. Instead only threatening to, coming so very close in their standoffs that they could feel the other’s hot, moist breath and hear the pounding of the other’s heart. The hair on their arms tingling as they glared and cursed, though their flesh always remained apart. Always separate. As if each was terrified of the consequences of such contact, or perhaps that once made, they could not live without it. Without the pain that would have come next. Without the sound of the other whimpering and crying for their mercy.
Despite the importance of those moments to both Neha and Holly, one day, each vanished. The former for reasons you know, and the latter, for reasons much the same. A man she loved, a test with two lines, then a baby girl. Her man, despite the love, leaving too. He not willing to be a father, nor suffer the indignity of his girl getting fat for the same cause.
So similar were their tales, in fact, that neither spent a day at the gym without the other. Each finding their sudden need to retreat seizing them on the same day. Each retracting into their own homes– their own lives. A luxury available to each by virtue of their jobs. Holly being a “social media coordinator”, a job which gave her the same ability to work from home as Neha with her blogging. Grand though working from the comfort of their own residences may seem, each found their sudden, and humiliating abandonment and complete isolation depressing in the most crippling of ways. The pair finding their lives, at that moment, to be bereft of all joy and happiness, save for one shining, ray of light: the other’s suffering.
Each hearing the other’s woe not through friends or family, but through their public Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter accounts. Each stalking, as it is called, the other’s life as it fell apart. Each celebrating the other’s every passive aggressive post about being dumped, complaints of poorly-fitting dresses, and their denial-rich justifications for staying home.
Neither caring or even realizing how much the other’s pain mirrored their own. Yes, their own man had left, but surely the other deserved it. True, their own body had grown and bloated, but the other must truly have looked like a troll. Why else would she have restrained from posting pictures for nearly a year? No doubt for reasons that differed from their own.
It was those assessments and unspoken aspersions that helped them through those dark times. Their disdain and disregard for each other’s pain that carried them through the worst time in their own, previously wonderful lives.
A time, like all others, which eventually ended. Each working out day and night in their own personal exercise rooms — a dart-held picture of the other on their wall being their motivation. Their call to recover the body that had once been their’s.
As that body returned, so did their confidence. And with that confidence, came a stilling of hands and staying of mascara that allowed each to finally, leave their homes and return to the world.
And though “the world” sounds grand, like they had each left their respective houses and marched to Washington, or boarded a plane to see the pyramids, they instead just went to Whole Foods.
Not together hand-in-hand, but separately. Each leaving their house, babygirl-in-tow, with no idea that the other was making the same trip, at the same time. The two emotionally-defensive women oblivious to the threat they faced — the threat of once again seeing their rival, when each was least prepared to resist the pull such meetings had on them.
Looming though that threat was, most of their venture to the store went without incident. The adverse pair choosing for themselves whatever meals would convey the maximum amount of nutrients to themselves, and then via breast milk, to their child — while still allowing them to maintain their figure.
Neha, having finished her search for such food, made her way over to the small, but still-present baby aisle of the Whole Foods store. It was during that traversal that she caught it, out of the corner of her eye. Two men. Young men. Attractive men with beards that made her shiver with the long-forgotten thrill of the hunt. But it was not how they looked, but that they looked, which made Neha smile. Each watching her — ogling her like the same would watch a red-hot, juicy steak. And though some women might have rolled their eyes, or protest such uninvited sexualization, Neha reveled in it. Slowing her walk, and exaggerating the swivel of her hips as she pushed her cart to drive them wild.
It was true, that she had her baby with her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have fun. She was still a woman and being alone for the last year, she was feeling not just restless, but plagued by a thirst she could not quench on her own.
Unbeknownst to her, however, those same eyes that studied her, she had stolen from someone else. Someone who stood seething, as those eyes left her body and moved to Neha’s. A someone who was not new to fighting for attention with Neha. For that someone was Holly — a woman who wasted not a second before marching after her passing rival. The onyx-haired mother giving a hard shove to the handle of her cart, all as her baby cood happily beneath her swinging breasts and scowling face.
With Holly in chase, but without knowledge of the same, Neha stopped in the empty baby aisle, and began her search. She needed not diapers, or wipes, but instead a cream, something for her nipples which at times ached, after a full day of feedings. Find it though she did, as she reached for and took it, a voice called out from behind her. One that sounded as if it came from a snake and not a human — it being more a hiss than words.
“Why am I not surprised you’d feed your baby formula? I guess with breasts like yours, you’d have no other choice.” The words seemed almost comically cruel, and yet they were no different than the words the two had spoken to each other before. Neither holding back. Not once. Not ever. Their every conversation acidic. Their every contact cutting.
Standard though the tone was for they two, still, the insult made Neha close her eyes and sigh, before responding to her rival as she turned. “I would never…. Though I’m sure you’d feed that trash to your baby girl….” The Indian mother paused as a smirk formed on her face. “But, I’m glad you finally decided to crawl out of your hole, Holly. How brave of you with all that baby weight still hanging…. You’re an inspiration to fat women everywhere.” As if the words weren’t harsh enough, Neha made them even worse by reaching out and pinching — yes, PINCHING a small lip of skin that still protruded past Holly’s skin-tight leggings.
“Ooooohhhh….”Holly exclaimed in a long, drawn-out exhale, one she released as she pushed her cart forward, leaving it parallel with her rival’s. “Fat, huh?I guess that’s how you justify my breasts being so much bigger than yours now.” The white woman began as she leaned in close and said in a hush. “In fact, if yours weren’t filled with milk, I bet you they’d only be half as big as mine.”
As Holly leaned in, Neha’s heart raced. As the lips of her rival parted, and a tiny gust of anger-warmed air was pushed out, a shiver went up the Indian mother’s spine. She hearing every word of insult spoken, with her eyes closed and body shaking with both excitement and rage. But even as those emotions swirled within her, Neha still grabbed for her rival, and with a soft tug of shirt, kept her from pulling away. A grab Holly matched, as she took the same, light, singer-grip of Neha’s top.
It was then, that with the pair’s bodies gently pressing together in that closeness, that the Hindu blogger whispered back, her cheek coming to press against her rival’s as she did so. “You don’t want to compare breasts … or milk with me, cuntttt.” Neha let the last word — the C-word drift, as she and her rival clung not only to each other but the moment. The first moment in so long that made them feel anything other than disgusted and depressed.
Each of them could feel it. The absolute electricity that at that moment existed between them. A spark and a flame they had always had. And though other women might flee from such a sensation of contrary wills and requited rivalry, Holly and Neha, more than they could have known in their long absence from one another, missed it. So much, in fact, that the first thing presented as a challenge, they accepted. They internalized to their very core. Their respective motherhood. Their ability to feed their child. Their breasts, and the milk contained within them.
To anyone other than they two, it would be madness. But as they whispered their venom back and forth, it became the only true logic left in their ravaged lives. The only truths they cared to know: which of them was the better mother, and whose breasts were better able to feed their own newborn girl.
A desire to know — to prove that coursed through their bodies like a toxin they could not resist. The two newly made mothers pausing and lingering in that semi-embrace, almost shivering, as they pinched softly at the long, shirt sleeves of the other. Neither moving or pulling away until finally, when their pressed cheeks felt so hot they might scald, Holly pulled back. The eyes of the pair quickly fusing into a white-hot glare, one that kept to, even as Neha’s challenge of comparing their respective prowess as mothers, remained unanswered.
A challenge that represented not just that question, but every other they had ever asked of each other. Who was better? Who was stronger? Who was sexier? Who was more fit? Each boiled down to its essence, leaving only the question of their worth as mothers. Why? Because it was the question asked when they were weakest. The query posed when neither had the strength to resist the urges the other brought about in them.
And so despite all of their reasons not to agree to such a contest and even the senselessness of the question. Regardless of the fact that they were mothers responsible for a life other than their own — one who should be above the petty jealousies of the flesh. Still Holly responded.
“Bitch….” The black-haired mother growled, as she reached for what she had felt brushing against her arm, as they lingered together. Grabbing the item from Neha’s hand, even as the same struggled to keep it, though too slow.
“You’re going to challenge my breasts and nipples with yours, and you’re using this shit…?” As the white mother spoke, her eyes narrowed, as her victorious hand lifted the item in front of Neha’s face.
At the lifting, shame took Neha, who grabbed for the item. Wanting it back desperately. Not because there were not more to be taken off the shelf and purchased, but because she wanted to rip it from Holly’s. To take it from her by force. To fight her for it, right there in the middle of the store — in the midst of that lonely aisle.
For her own part, Holly was more than willing to fight. To resist Neha’s attempt and finally — FINALLY engage her rival in something other than words. Her sexy, post-baby body shaking with excitement at the very thought of feeling the touch of Neha’s body against hers once again.
Ready and willing though each of the two women were for their struggle over nipple cream to go further, suddenly they both froze. Their attention seized by the sound of their two babies, who had quietly mumbled and babbled in parallel car seats, began to cry. The sound stealing the two women’s attention from one another, back to their sweet, beautiful newborn girls. A reassigned focus they only broke, when Holly said over her shoulder. “I’m dropping her off in 30 minutes, why don’t we….”
Before the white mother had even finished speaking, Neha replied. “I’ll be at your door, bitch. Open it….” As short and snide as the words were, the Indian mother didn’t even shift her gaze from her gorgeous baby girl to her hateful rival.
“You’ll regret ever leaving your house, you Hindu-bitch.” Holly responded in a hushed voice meant only for Neha, before starting off down the aisle. And though she had chided her rival for using it, the leaving mother still tossed the nipple cream into her cart — knowing that on most nights, she too needed its soothing relief.
The next hour seemed to pass so slowly in some ways, and yet so quickly in others. For as each dropped their babies off at the house of a loved one, for preplanned visits and some time to themselves, they thought about it. The contact they had felt, ever so briefly. Their surprise meeting and the excitement they felt during every second of it. And then, the explosion that was to come when finally they were alone together.
Since their men had left them, they had not had another, nor even the chance at finding one. Each of the two women working out of their homes, focusing only on themselves, their bodies, and their babies. But finally, after a chance meeting in an aisle of their favorite store, each felt free. Not because they succeeded in leaving their house, but instead because, for the first time in so long, they wanted something — each other.
Yes, they hated each other with a passion. Yes, when they were together their only drive was to belittle and wound the other. But the confrontation each had just left, was the most exciting moment either had experienced other than childbirth in so very, very long. A fact that made them replay it again and again in their minds. Every word. Every breath. Every lean and every touch. All of it they wanted again, and as quick as they could have it.
But what did it even mean? Comparing breasts and milk? Is that even what Holly had invited Neha to do when she arrived? Neither knew. Neither cared what the intention was, or the plan. They just wanted more. More of … whatever that moment had been. More of each other — as hard as that may be to believe.
But that dichotomy of expectation and desire, did little to stop each from preparing for each other.
The confusing way that each felt compelled to torment the other, not stopping them from slipping into form-fitting bodycon dresses; Neha’s green and Holly’s red.
Their willingness to risk whatever consequences laid ahead of them, not halting their reapplication of makeup, each hoping to outdo the other with their choice shades and lines of contour.
The strange way their hate and excitement mixed together and intoxicated, failing to hinder Neha as she entered her vehicle and drove.
Nor finally, did the dampness of her Cosabella panties, keep Holly from pacing in the entryway of her townhome. The onyx-haired mother waiting for Neha’s arrival like a child for Christmas morning.