by Ray N. Franklin
Rating: PG13 Adult Themes
Charlie rolled out of bed and staggered to his bathroom. Sarina was already showering in hers. He wasn’t really a morning person, but when her day started, his day started. He had never mastered sleeping-in after Sarina got up and began her routine. Besides, he always felt better once he got past the waking up part. This morning, the waking up part arrived early, as soon as he turned on the lights.
Blinking, and squinting into the glare, his mouth dropped open as he stared at the thick mat of hair, which had covered his entire chest the night before. Except for a couple of stray tufts, his bare man boobs shone like a pair of headlights in the gloom. As he moved his hands toward the pale patches of skin, a wad of chest hair detached and fell into the sink.
He walked quickly back to the bed and flung aside the covers. His side of the bed was covered with patches and clumps of curly black hair, formerly attached to his now naked pecs.
“What the…” he whispered. Was it cancer? Boob pattern baldness? What would Sarina think?
From his walk-in closet, Charlie retrieved a whiskbroom and gathered up most of the hair from the sheets and pillowcase. No need to get it all. Some stray hairs were normal. After all, his body did look like he was part poodle. As he wadded the hair into a giant ball, he heard Sarina shut off the water. It would be only a few minutes until she emerged, clean, dressed, and charged up for the day.
Tightly clutching the ball of hair, he walked barefoot into the kitchen and buried it in the middle of the week’s trash. No chance she would find it there. In the bedroom he put the covers back, slightly rumpled, and headed for his own shower. As he was reaching for the faucet, he heard Sarina open her bathroom door, and he waited. Mentally, he saw her slipping on high-fashion heels in her closet. She wore a slim, form-fitting dress in blue that complemented her rich, brown skin-tones. She kept one hand on the doorframe as she executed compulsory spike heel gymnastics. It was a fetching image, a call to action were he not already preoccupied. When he heard tap-tap-tapping in the hallway he turned on the water.
Minty soap and hot water washed away a bit more loose hair. He let the water massage his back, looked down at his chest, and examined both breasts with his hands. They seemed bigger, and they felt a little tender, but he found no lumps. The nipples were… Well, he just wasn’t sure, but something seemed off about those little oval cones.
Concerned, Charlie completed a full male exam. No more hair fell out. Everything seemed normal between his legs. Maybe it wasn’t bad at all, just some mysterious, but natural thing. He was almost finished showering when he heard the door open.
“See you later,” Sarina said. “Kisses.”
Charlie stuck his head out of the shower. “Adios, chiquita,” he said and blew her a loud kiss.
Sarina smiled and shut the door.
After a quick breakfast of coffee, fried eggs, and donuts, Charlie went into his office, carrying another mug-full of coffee. Settling into his ultra-ergonomic swivel chair–an essential luxury in his mind–he switched on the big flat panel wall display that was as wide as his desk. The computer never slept. It continuously ran a wide assortment of bots that managed his internet marketing empire, feeding tweets, photos, text messages, email, and blog posts through his network to an even larger collection of associated websites and social media platforms. It was the work force, the army of electronic serfs, while he was the lord and master of his domains.
Along the top edge of the screen, the Ferret News Network Deep Data ticker flowed by: “Absolutely nothing happened last night.”
“Sez you,” Charlie muttered.
He opened the stats dashboard. One website in his portfolio had rocketed overnight from the bottom to a record-setting height. That plodding under-performer, man.boobs, had already logged over a million hits for the day. Related product sales had increased by nine hundred percent–good, but not great, because ten multiplied by tiny was still tiny. He pulled up the admin panel and shifted a dozen websites off of that server, spreading them out across the five other dedicated machines he leased. With the struggling server now hosting only man.boobs, the load levels soon dropped out of the warning zone and into normal territory.
Next he looked at incoming man.boobs email, all addressed to Ask Larry, the site’s advice guru. Larry was a facade of course, just like Dear Abby. He was surprised to see over three thousand messages that had passed through the auto-reply filters unprocessed. The filter bot had already profiled the content and grouped them according to topic. They had all landed in one group.
He looked at the content profile and sampled a few messages manually. They ran along the same track: “I’ve got man boobs! They weren’t there last night. WTF?”
Charlie sighed. “OK, let’s get my questions answered and take care of these guys at the same time,” he said to the room. With a click, four new windows opened, tiled in the right half of the display. He set up broad search term variants on man boobs. The windows filled with results. Man boobs were trending, strongly. He found no real news, but the blogosphere was humming.
“Guys, Got Boobs?”
“Man Boobs Pop Out All Over.”
“Man Boob Epidemic.”
He was not at all surprised to find that the posts lacked any solid or useful information. They were more like shouts and exclamations. The trend was young, far too young for any valid help, so he went back to founding principles.
He knew man boobs were most often a result of obesity and hormonal imbalances. Charlie riffled through his own collection of posts and selected a half-dozen that explained causes, listed treatment actions, and gave reassurances. No, you’re not going crazy. No, you aren’t turning into a woman. No, soymilk does not cause man boobs, although it does contribute to hormonal issues. All of it was factual material backed up by science and dozens of highly popular doctors. Unlike many web marketers, Charlie preferred to deliver real value to his customers.
He composed a new email template heavy on supportive content and ending with the list of selected posts. Summary: here’s the real story; buck up and take it like a man. Then he assigned the template to the mail group, imported it into the auto-reply filter, and off the messages went, salving the egos of thousands of wounded men.
My boss got me ranked with the noobs.
My work always goes down the tubes.
Though it wasn’t the plan
Now I know I’m a man.
This morning I’m sporting two man boobs.
By mid-morning, Charlie had put out the most urgent trend-related fires. His empire was operating smoothly again, with nicely growing sales tied to the man boob trend.
A headline scrolled by on Ferret News: La Leche League Prez Arrested. Huh, that’s odd, Charlie thought, but an email filter alert took his attention away to a new, emerging question set.
Finished with Ask Larry, Charlie leaned back and put his hands behind his head. Then he suddenly lurched forward. Something cold had brushed against the skin on his chest. He looked down and saw two sizable wet spots on his white dress shirt, right over his manly mammaries.
He unbuttoned the shirt as he dashed to his bathroom. Pulling the shirt off he tossed it onto the floor and inspected his chest in the mirror. His man boobs were quite obviously larger, with dark rings around the nipples. He caught a whiff of something vaguely familiar. As he stared in disbelief, fluid seeped out of his right nipple, forming a whitish drop that hung for a moment on the enlarged tip and then dribbled down the underside of that boob.
With one finger, he swiped along the track of the drip and put the finger into his mouth. Hmmm, he thought, not bad.
He put his hands on his right boob, one above and one below, cupping it. Then he gradually and firmly applied pressure.
For several seconds nothing happened, except that his discomfort grew as the pressure increased. Then, all at once, a short stream spurted from the nipple and splattered onto the mirror. That’s when he snapped and howled out loud.
I’m a twenty-eight year old male. Sure, I’m a bit overweight; that’s why I have man boobs. But I’m a man, dammit. Male nipples DO NOT give milk!
Charlie took slow, deep breaths, letting out some tension and anger with each exhalation. Then he sighed as the edge of his shock and outrage softened. Above all else, he was a practical man.
“If I’m giving milk, I better figure out what to do about it,” he said to his reflection.
Charlie squeezed both man boobs, emptying them into the sink. Then he sponged off with a damp washcloth and put on a fresh shirt. As he was donning a jacket, his phone chimed.
“Hi Sweety, how ’bout a roast for supper? You make the best one in town,” said the text message from Sarina.
He texted her back, “Just heading out. I’ll pick one up at Central Market. Thinking rosemary, roasted turnips, carrots and beets. Kisses.”
He slipped the phone into his jacket and left the apartment. Central Market was only nine blocks away. The other shop he had in mind was considerably closer, and only a few blocks off his usual route to the market.
“Expecting?” the young clerk asked Charlie as he walked through the door of Pea Pod Maternity. A small brass bell on the door tinkled brightly, ceasing only after the door closed.
“Naw,” Charlie said, patting his ample belly, “just beer.”
The clerk rolled her eyes.
“Just kidding,” he said. My wife is due in a few weeks. She works and she wants a breast pump.”
Aielle–according to her pink and blue nametag–showed him to a sizable wall display of breast pumps.
“The big ones on the bottom shelves are all medical grade. They’re fast and reliable. We lease those by the month. These shelves,” and she gestured at the two above, “are our mid-range models. We have manual, battery-powered, and plug-in pumps. As you can see, they all have the suction cup and collection jar. Do you know what size your wife is?”
At first Charlie didn’t know what she meant. His hesitant silence grew awkward. Then he blushed and stammered. “Um, she’s, um, well, bigger than you. Oh, no, that’s not… I’m sorry, and, ah, smaller, too.”
It was Aielle’s turn to blush. “I understand,” she said and showed him kits with a wide range of breastshield sizes. Then she demonstrated how to switch shields on several models.
“You might find this new pump more suitable,” she said, moving past the shelves to a dramatically lit alcove. “This is the real gem of breast pumps. The Invisi-Slim Auto-Fit is the latest technology.” She picked up the demo unit, a pale, sky blue, nipple-less breast that looked like it belonged on a futuristic android.
“It’s wireless and adjusts to any size. It can be worn underneath clothing, for discreet pumping at work or in public. Some mothers skip the clothes, at home, of course. The pump is self-adhering, waterproof, and self-supporting. She can wear it in any position and do anything while it pumps–even take a shower. It comes with an app for monitoring and control, plus a two-year guarantee.”
She sold Charlie completely. As she put the box into a glittery white bag, he looked around the store and turned to Aielle after spying a sign in the back.
“Do you mind if I use your changing room to…”
Aielle had frozen as she pushed the bag across the counter. Her face twitched as the cheery, business facade melted, revealing something like horror beneath.
Charlie’s smile vanished and his face blanched. He grabbed the bag and fled.
The walk to Central Market and back home gave him time to calm down and recover from the embarrassing scene in Pea Pod Maternity. By the time he returned to his apartment–Invisi-Slim Auto-Fit and groceries in hand–the blogosphere had shifted into overdrive, ramping up the hype and fear. He glanced at the recent search results on his wall display.
“Men With Beastly Breasts.”
“Teen Male, Milking With Style.”
“Boy Band Bares Boobs.”
Shaking his head, he left the breast pump on the living room couch and went into the kitchen. Unwrapping the strip loin roast, he laid it out in a broiling pan, and gave it a generous coating of salt, pepper and a dash of ground rosemary. Into the refrigerator it went while he cleaned and prepped the carrots, turnips and beets.
His phone chimed from his jacket. He wiped his hands and checked the message. It was from Sarina.
“I guess you heard bout the manboob virus. You OK? XXXX”
“Fine. Lets talk when you get home. XOXOX :)”
Charlie sent the message, and then returned to his office.
The trend was moving quickly, but the bloggers were just fanning the flames. There had to be something more substantial. Ignoring the blog posts, he searched video feeds instead. He quickly found dozens of smart phone videos of shirtless teenage boys running around squirting milk at each other and outraged passersby. One boy had quite a rack and was soaking his opponents. The video that garnered the most attention–with over three million views in the hour since it was posted–was quite different.
It was also a phone video, although shot without the typical handheld shaking, and from an elevated location maybe fifteen feet away. A man sat on a red-slatted park bench at the intersection of two paths. He was on the large side, and his man boobs were sizable. His shirt was unbuttoned and thrown wide open. In his arms he held an infant who suckled happily at his left breast. He was smiling at the child.
Two thin women in conservative business dress walked into the frame from the left. When they saw the man, they became agitated, walked past very quickly and spoke urgently into their phones. On the cross path, two female power walkers in bright jogging outfits approached from behind the bench. At the intersection, they saw the man and his infant, their wide-eyed and open-mouthed reactions clearly visible. Standing stock-still and gaping for a moment, they soon pivoted and sprinted away, screams fading as they ran.
The man and child enjoyed a full minute of peace until a couple of police officers entered from the left. Both were heavyset, one a tall, stocky, blonde female, and the other a shorter male. The male officer and the man on the bench exchanged words, while the blonde stood back. The audio was unintelligible.
When the male officer sat down on the bench and began unbuttoning his uniform shirt, the blonde protested, pulling at his arm. The man in blue pulled away from her, saying something like “community service,” and opened his shirt. The other man passed the baby over to the officer who then gave suck to the infant. At that point the blonde backed away, frantically shouting into her shoulder mike. The word “backup” rang out clearly. Both men on the bench remained intent upon the infant, who seemed quite satisfied with the turn of events.
Charlie scrolled down below the video and read the top comment from social media.
“@POTUS #manmilk Disgusting! Officer Suck, your fired!”
He continued scanning new videos and was soon laughing out loud at one clip.
“In business news, maternity products giant, Mommas, NASDAQ symbol MOMS, is ramping up production of its Invisi-slim, adaptive-fit pumps. VP of marketing, Clarisse Shogal had this to say in our interview. ‘We sent the newest Invisi-slim Auto-fit to the POTUS as a gift. Presidential exposure is always exciting.'”
Don’t gimme that nasty old soymilk,
Nor poisonous rattler snakemilk.
Don’t milk goats on boats,
Nor cows fed on oats.
I’ll drink only bona fide boymilk.
Charlie got right to work beefing up the man.boobs website with product placements for breast pumps in articles explaining how to use the devices. Ask Larry was brimming with new questions about man boob seepage, so he added several new response templates and filters, sprinkling breast pump sales links liberally throughout. On man.boobs, he added the link-rich articles, one-by-one, and by the time he was finished, the site was already well positioned on the emerging breast pump search trend. Another idea flashed in his head and he inserted a few ads for male bras as a test.
He smiled broadly, loving the sense of accomplishment at catching a wave of social anxiety and milking it for all it was worth. In this case, it was worth quite a bit.
His stomach rumbled and so he wandered into the kitchen. He made a quick lunch of an apple, a small bowl of mixed nuts, Gouda cheese, and some pretzels. The oven clock told him it was time to start the roast, so he worked on that. When he searched for the fresh rosemary and found nothing, he frowned. Then it hit him.
“Rats. Forgot to get rosemary at the store,” he said to the roast. No time for walking. He used his phone to request a ride and left the apartment without his jacket. The car arrived less than a minute after he reached the curb.
“Can you wait for me at Central Market?” Charlie asked the driver from the back seat.
“Fine with me. I’d like a break. I’ll give you fifty percent discount on the stand-by rate,” he said.
“Perfect. I don’t expect to be long.”
“Say, did you hear about the man boob virus?”
“No,” Charlie said. “What’s up?”
“The president of La Leche League went rogue. She siphoned off money and had a Chinese genetics lab make something called a gene drive. They put it in a virus and it changes guys so we grow breasts and give milk.”
“You don’t say,” Charlie replied.
“Yeah, she says she did it because mother’s milk is so much healthier for babies. They say the virus spreads fast. My pair showed up last night. How ’bout you?”
Charlie admitted he had caught the virus. He described part of his morning to the driver, who was interested in how Charlie expressed the milk. They reached the market soon after and parked. Charlie ran inside.
He snagged a clear plastic bag at the end of the chilled produce display and marched up to the fresh herbs section. He fumbled with the bag until he was able to separate the two flimsy sheets. Then he stuffed two limber bunches of rosemary into the bag.
Turning to his left, he noticed a tall, blonde woman looking, no, staring at him. Her eyes were aimed not up, into his, but focused lower, at chest height. Feeling self-conscious, Charlie turned the opposite way and found a well-dressed Hispanic woman, also fixated on his upper torso.
Charlie gulped and faced the herb display as he backed slowly away. The two women kept their eyes locked on him and turned as he moved.
“I saw him first, you know,” the Hispanic woman said, never breaking her gaze.
“I disagree,” the blonde said, “But you know, he’s got one for each of us.”
“You’re right. Share and share alike,” the other said. Both women advanced slowly, maintaining a visual fix on the quarry.
“Ladies, please,” Charlie said. Holding the bag of rosemary stretched wide in front of him, he slowly raised it to shoulder level. The bag bounced softly against his chest as he retreated.
“Did you hear that?” the blonde said.
“Sounded almost like an invitation,” the brunette said.
Charlie bumped up against another produce display. That’s when they pounced on him.
With a yelp Charlie climbed backwards onto a pyramidal pile of tomatoes. The red fruits rolled everywhere as he struggled on the soft bed and the women pulled at his shirt. Buttons flew off as the front popped open. He tried climbing higher up the slippery mound. The women lunged after him.
In desperation he grabbed tomatoes in his right hand and shoved them into the blonde’s face. She backed off, spluttering. He flung a handful of already crushed tomatoes at the other woman. Some splatted into her face and she retreated. The rest hit a third woman who was perusing the cilantro.
With indignation she picked up several tomatoes at her feet and hurled them at Charlie’s huntresses. The missiles connected with untargeted shoppers, and they replied in kind. Tomatoes arced through the air with increasing frequency.
Charlie rolled off the display to one side and crawled away from the fight. No one noticed him in the chaos. People were streaming into Produce from the Bakery and Dairy sections, attracted by the sounds of battle, like hungry campers to the smell and the fury of frying bacon. When he reached the bread shelves, he ran, crouched over, towards the front of the store.
He stood on the sidewalk seconds later, still clutching the bag of rosemary and breathing heavily. He stopped, considered returning to pay, and decided to settle up another time.
For the ride home, Charlie sat quietly, on a blanket spread out over the back seat. The driver looked at him with concern, but did not speak. At the apartment building, Charlie added a generous tip to the driver’s fare. The man opened the door for Charlie and thanked him.
In his apartment he shucked off the shirt, tossed it into the trash, and resumed dinner preparation. By two pm he had the roast–topped by several sprigs of fresh rosemary and ringed by quartered onions–cooking in the oven, the other vegetables oiled and seasoned in a second roasting pan.
As he walked through the living room on the way back to his office, Charlie saw the bag from Pea Pod Maternity. Putting both his hands to his chest, he found them to be heavy and slightly bloated. The roast was late. Things were piling up. He needed to multi-task.
“Might as well give it a try,” he said to the apartment.
First he changed his pants and wiped a few tomato smears off of his skin. Then he settled in on the couch, opened the Invisi-Slim Auto-Fit box, and spread the contents out on the coffee table. He scanned the entire manual, including the safety section, which was quite amusing.
When he was finished laughing at the manual, he was able to think about his shopping experience without cringing. Never had he approached a woman in a predatory fashion, but he knew of men who did. Though the moment had been awkward and uncomfortable, he held no ill will towards the women. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
He reached for the pump, thought better of it, and went to his office instead. Grabbing a tablet, he synched it to the computer display and walked slowly back to the living room. On the way, he reviewed the news, confirming the driver’s story of the genetic manipulation behind the man boob trend.
He found technical explanations, facts about the virus, and speculation about the medical impact. He learned that two weeks after infection, men grew mammary glands, developed areolae, and underwent hormonal changes leading to active lactation. No one knew if men could produce milk indefinitely or if it would cycle.
In the living room, he leaned back on the couch and looked at the ceiling, pondering the whole of what he had seen and experienced today. It all seems quite hopeful, he thought. People are responding to this, not panicking. Teen boys are doing what teens do, being crazy and irresponsible. At least some men are taking it in stride, dealing with the issues, solving the obvious problems, and enjoying the possibilities. Some women feel threatened, others attracted. Hmmm, what’s next?
As he continued thinking about the known trends and what might be next, Charlie picked up the Invisi-Slim pump, inserted a milk bag, held it to his right man boob, and activated it. The sensations as the pump adjusted its shape and clamped onto his mammary were remarkable and pleasant. When it pulled his nipple into its center and began sucking he felt a little thrill up his core. The pump made a quiet, rhythmic whirring as it extracted his milk.
With the smooth blue boob hanging on his chest, he went into the kitchen. The roast looked good, smelled wonderfully aromatic, and oozed red liquid when pierced. It was time to start the veggies. He loaded the second pan onto a shelf below the roast and closed the oven.
Young laddie named Randy MacRed
Had man boobs that bloated in bed.
Two lassies latched on.
MacRed played along,
And ploughed furrowed fields while they fed.
— unknown Scot in the men’s room
Charlie decided that the Invisi-Slim pumping action felt pretty good. In fact, it was kind of sexy. He picked up the tablet, tried a new search, and there it was, the world’s first manmilk porn video.
But the bigger trend was about more than just tawdry sexploitation, wasn’t it? The park bench nursing video had revealed something deeper and more intriguing.
Evolution had been cruel to men, giving them the equipment and then breaking it, shoving them off the nurturing path. They struggled to reconnect by providing for their families, often resorting to violence as the means. Then the virus came along. With a stroke intended only to improve infant health, it gave men an opportunity, a new way to relate to women. It was a chance to build stronger ties with their families.
All the pieces connected. The pleasure, sexuality, and nurturing all fit together perfectly. In a flash Charlie saw the new trends, the nascent ones not quite formed yet, but emerging nonetheless. Human culture was changing, and the change carried many possibilities. As humans were so wont to do, they would try every one and roll many into the new culture.
He realized, with some chagrin, that he was responsible for some of the politics of fear, playing on those anxious trends to make a buck. But the future trends would be hopeful, not fearful, as men and women worked out the new dynamics. He saw plenty of profit in hope, and he resolved to shift his empire in that direction.
Returning his attention to the tablet, he began streaming the porn video–to see how the sex trade was interpreting the trend–and ambled from the kitchen to the living room. The video wasn’t all that bad, considering it was probably shot quickly, in just a couple of hours this morning. He was standing in the front hallway when the entry door opened.
Charlie froze, shirtless, one boob hanging out, the other encased in a big blue leech, and a porn video playing on his tablet. With the door wide open, there was Sarina, straddling the threshold, also frozen between steps.
Across that divide of maybe six paces they stared at each other. In their shared silence, the quiet whir of the Invisi-Slim pump sounded like a roaring engine to Charlie.
Charlie’s mind raced at top speed, getting nowhere. He was afraid to move or even speak, fearful that any action would scare Sarina away, like a broken twig startles a doe in the forest.
As the silence stretched on, a thought born of desperation came to him. He opened his mouth to speak, and a sudden gurgle from the pump sounded like an explosion. It drove away the possibility of speech.
More seconds dragged by. Sarina opened her mouth, as though to say something. Then a rising-falling “aaah, aaah,” blared from the porn video, driving away Sarina’s voice. Charlie risked all by moving a finger to tap the pause control.
In the hallway, behind Sarina, a retired woman from two doors down walked past, glanced inside the open door, squeaked, and scurried back to the safety of her apartment.
Charlie was lost. He no longer knew what to do, how to navigate these strange waters. His throat was dry, and his face hot and sweaty.
Sarina broke the spell. She stepped into the apartment and shut the door. By advancing and cutting off her own retreat, she swept away all his fears and anxieties.
Charlie touched a control bump on the Invisi-Slim and it rolled off into his hand. He set it and the tablet on the end table next to the couch. Sarina shrugged off her shoulder bag, lowered it to the floor, and dropped the strap.
“You know,” Sarina said, walking slowly toward Charlie, “I’ve always thought it was unfair that men get to suckle breasts all their lives, but hetero women must go outside of marriage for that particular joy.”
She reached up to him as she drew near.
“Is this one still full?” she said, caressing his left breast and running the fingers of her other hand through his curly chest hair.
She nuzzled it, kissed it, took the nipple into her mouth and sucked. Her eyes closed and her face smoothed out, all worries falling away. She stood with her hands upon his chest. Slowly and gently, her fingers curled up into little fists, and softly kneaded his breast.
Charlie closed his eyes, too. He put one hand on the back of her head and the other at the small of her back. His brow softened as he relaxed into the warmth of her embrace. It was an altogether new experience. He gave himself over to the pleasure of it, and his hand on her back slipped lower, seeking softer ground.
They held each other for a long time.
Word count for “Trending” – 5,032.