Platonic, Pt. 7
Rumson, New Jersey
“So you don’t love me anymore?” Andrea lay next to him in his bed, propped up on one elbow. The bedcovers were draped around her hips, exposing her nakedness from the waist up. She smiled as she asked him the question, trying to look like she was asking in fun. But he knew her. She really wanted to know.
Brandon kept his eyes on her face. He didn’t want to look at her breasts, as lovely as they were. He didn’t love her anymore, not like before. He realized that now. She no longer had a grip on his heart. He knew because the sex they’d just shared only felt like sex. There was nothing special about it, the way it used to be for him with her. He felt bad about that, and not for himself. Andrea was his friend. He loved her as his friend. He didn’t want sex with his friend. He felt like it cheapened their friendship, and made her less than she used to be.
“I love you,” he said. It was still true. Just different now.
Andrea was watching him, closely. “But not like before.” She knew him, too.
“Before wasn’t good for me,” he said. “That was me wanting from you what you wanted from someone else.”
“I wasn’t using you, Brandon.”
That she would say that meant that she probably had been using him. She’d never wanted to hurt him, but she’d enjoyed him wanting her. He’d been her back up love; her shoulder to cry on when the man she love stepped on her. He couldn’t be mad at her about that, because he knew what it was all along and he’d let it happen. He’d known the truth, but didn’t want to see it. Love is nothing if not hope, and hope can make anyone a fool. That’s what Freda Michaels had been trying to get him to see for years. Freda knew, but her telling him wouldn’t have worked. He had to see it for himself, and like a child maturing into adulthood, learn some things through hard experience.
“We’re friends, Andrea. We should be able to use each other when we need something, as long as it does no harm.”
“What if I want us to be more than friends?”
“Is that where you are now?”
“I think so, yes. I think I’m at that point in my life.”
If Andrea were being honest – with him and with herself – then she was today where he was years ago. Years ago he would have jumped at the chance. There was a time when if she’d simply said the word, he would have married her without hesitation. There was a time in which she had her hands around his heart.
He said, “We’ll always be friends, Andrea. I’m always going to love you. But for me the moment has passed.”
Manhattan, New York
“Do you really have to use a condom to blow me?”
“Those are the rules.”
“I don’t think I can come like that. I don’t think I can feel anything.”
“Do you want something else…a hand job?’
“Fuck no. I can do that for myself. Do you really have to use a condom?”
Terri was getting a bad feeling about this client. He was too whiney, like a spoiled toddler who wasn’t getting his way. A tantrum might come next. There was a big difference between a baby and a grown man throwing a tantrum. One could be dangerous. She cut a glance at the hotel room’s door and wondered if she could reach it, throw the security latch and get out before he caught her. If she needed to run. If he tried to chase her.
“The rules were explained to you when you set up the appointment,” she said. “We can’t change the rules.”
“Why not? It’s just you and me now. I won’t tell if you won’t.” He winked and smiled at her, as if she really wanted to suck his dick without protection and only needed his agreement to keep quiet to do it.
“Those are the rules, Gary. So no condom, no oral.”
“Then I think I want my money back.”
Terri slid away from him on the bed and reached for her bra. “Okay, call the service.”
She was going to get off the bed, but he grabbed her wrist. “I want my money back now.”
She needed to keep the situation calm, and then try to get away from this asshole. “Gary, don’t be silly, okay? We can have fun if we play by the rules. Let me put the condom on you…”
“We’re not using any fucking condom, Jewel. I told you I can’t feel anything like that. Let’s not make this something ugly, okay?”
Terri saw the threat in his eyes. If this bastard didn’t have things his way he was going to get mean.
She was sick of this, so sick and tired. And she didn’t have to be here. She could have gone to Brandon’s last night, and tonight been relaxing in his den without a care in the world. Brandon wouldn’t pressure her to do anything because they were friends. He cared about her.
Terri looked at the customer’s hand clutched around her left wrist. She looked at his wedding band. She said, “If you wanted someone to suck you off raw, you should’ve stayed home with your wife.” It was a wrong thing to say, given his temperament. But she didn’t care anymore.
The customer squeezed her wrist tighter and growled, “You little bitch,” and started to reach for her with his other hand. But he wasn’t that quick, and she was.
As she zipped up her dress Terri kept her eyes on Gary, who sat on the edge of the bed with a bloody hotel towel pressed against his broken nose. She said, “You could call the police, but you probably don’t want to. They might arrest me for solicitation, but it won’t stick. My company has a team of lawyers and private investigators ready to jump at a moment’s notice, and we have politicians who enjoy hanging out with us on occasion. You, on the other hand, have a wife who thinks you’re being a good boy while you’re in the city attending your company’s convention. And your company probably wouldn’t appreciate the bad press they’ll receive when this hits the news.”
From behind the towel Gary mumbled, “Fuck you.”
“Since you didn’t and won’t, you really can call and get your money back. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Gary.”
Rumson, New Jersey
Brandon was surprised to open his door and find Terri standing across the threshold. She didn’t look very friendly. Remembering how he’d come off the wrong way a couple of nights ago he decided to play things carefully and see what happened. He said, “I’m glad to see you.”
“I used to box when I was in the Army,” Terri said.
“Yes, really. And I was pretty good, too. They don’t have a boxing program for females, so I could only spar. I was the only female training for boxing and there weren’t too many dudes in my weight class, so I fought a lot of guys bigger than me.”
“Where are we going with this?”
“Where we’re going is that you’re bigger than me too Brandon, but I bet I can kick your Wall Street ass.”
“That still doesn’t tell me where we’re going with this.”
“Where I’m going is that if I do this, there can’t be anybody else. No naked wenches for Christmas, or any other time. Next time it won’t be her I punch out.”
“And before I stop working where I’m working, I need to find another job. My rent and bills still need to be paid.”
“Or you could stay here.”
“How would that be different from what I’m doing now?”
“You’d be here as my friend, and because I care about you and what happens to you.”
“I don’t need a man to save me.”
“I’m not in the saving business, Terri. I just want you here with me. It’s not a complicated thing.”
“It’s always complicated. We’re different people.”
“Was it complicated when you came here before?”
“As I recall, it got very complicated. Complication came out of your kitchen naked.”
“She had a towel on.”
“Yeah, for a hot second. I didn’t come here to talk about your wenches.”
“Do you want to come in or are you going to stand out in the cold while we talk?”
Terri stepped past him into the foyer. He noticed that she had a bandage over the knuckles on her right hand. “You’ve been fighting?”
“I wouldn’t call it a fight. So do you really think this can work with us, Brandon?”
“Yes I do.”
“Because we worked well as friends. I liked having you here, and when you weren’t, I missed you. I want you here all the time; here with me.”
“What if I said I’ll move in, but that I want to wait before anything happens?”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know; three months, maybe six.”
“I understand. You’re worried that you’ll suck in bed and not measure up to my high standards.”
“Ooh, you asshole!” For the first time since he opened his door to her Terri smiled. Actually let go of a little laugh.
He said, “Okay, but seriously, I do think there’s something we need to do before we jump into the deep end.”
“Is this another one of your ultimatums?”
“Not at all. More like a strong suggestion…a very strong one.”
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
The Office of Dr. Freda Michaels
One Week Later
Freda tried to maintain her professionalism and not smile as she sat across from her patient. Okay, patients. They sat next to each other on her office sofa; closer than strangers would sit when there was adequate space but not so close that one could make assumptions about their level of intimacy. Brandon was dressed in pressed jeans under a cable knit pullover of too high a quality to come from anybody’s department store. He’d let his facial hair grow out, and with it trimmed low, looked handsome in a scruffy kind of way. Terri wore jeans, too, and cute over-the-ankle boots with three-inch heels. For the first time since Freda had known her she wasn’t wearing a hairpiece. Her short wavy haircut made her look much younger. Today, rather than sexy-pretty, she looked sexy-cute. They looked like a cute couple, if that’s what they were. Freda had hopes. “It’s really nice to see you again, Brandon,” she said.
“Thanks Freda. You too.”
“Although I must admit that I’m quite surprised at the circumstances.”
“We just want to make sure that we start things off on the right foot – you know, all things considered.”
“I’ll do all I can to help. So are we going to call this couples counseling?”
Terri took Brandon’s hand, smiled and said, “Let’s call it ‘playing it by ear’ counseling.”
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
Evan woke up to the aroma of breakfast – bacon, coffee, something with onions. When he got down to the kitchen he found the table set and Freda busy finishing up what they used to call their country heart attack breakfast: Bacon and hot links, home fries (from real sliced potatoes) with onions, scrambled eggs with cheese, buttered grits, cheese toast (made in the oven), pancakes, coffee and sweet tea. So that they wouldn’t permanently clog their arteries they used to only have this breakfast once every month or so. Evan hadn’t had it since their marriage ended. His stomach rumbled that that was far too long.
As was her habit from back on the mornings before they had kids and again after the kids were grown and out of the house, Freda was wearing the dress shirt he’d worn to work the day before. The shirt was white, and the way it contrasted with her long, bare, honey-hued legs made his heart gasp rather than beat. She had classic soul music playing on his stereo, currently Groove Me by King Floyd. As she flipped the pancakes she wiggled her hips and sang along. She looked good enough to eat. Again.
When Freda saw him she danced his way, smiling and with spatula in hand, and greeted him with a smack on the lips. He grasped her waist so that she couldn’t prance away and asked, “So why are you so happy this morning? And the only correct answer is because of what we did last night.”
“That’s one reason,” Freda said.
“What’s the other?”
“I think that for the first time in a long time I truly believe that love can conquer all. It feels good to have that hope again.”
“Is this because of your patients – Terri and Brandon – hooking up?”
“Mmm-hmm. If I’d had to bet money a couple of months ago, I would have bet that they didn’t have a chance. But now I’d bet on them making it work. And if those two can make it work, hey…”
Freda turned away and padded back to the stove. Evan watched her, and for a moment he forgot that their lives were separated, that they weren’t married any more. Or maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe all that mattered was how they felt being together in the moment. And maybe that feeling conquered everything else.
31 May 2012
NEW RELEASE THIS MONTH:
GOLDEN (INSATIABLE: BOOK TWO)
Platonic, Pt. 6
Rumson, New Jersey
Brandon went to answer his door thinking that the first thing he’d do was tell Terri that he appreciated her coming, and then that he hoped he hadn’t come off as arrogant last night, because that hadn’t been his intent. If she felt that he had been, then he’d apologize. He’d even apologize about Lisa, though he didn’t feel he’d done anything wrong regarding that incident. He just wanted to start things off on the right foot, and then move forward.
He opened his door, ready to make things right.
Andrea was standing on his porch, smiling her sexy smile.
As he tried to regroup she presented a bottle of wine and said, “Repayment for last night. I really appreciate you not letting me spend Valentine’s Day alone.”
“Likewise,” Brandon said, and stepped aside to let her in.
Before closing the door he looked out at his driveway, expecting Murphy’s Law to go into full effect. Now was when Terri’s Ford Focus would pull into his driveway behind Andrea’s Mercedes CLS, and all hell would break loose.
Behind him Andrea said, “I brought you something else, too.”
Brandon closed the door and turned around as Andrea extracted a disc from her shoulder bag.
She held it up and said, “I burned you a copy.”
“I see.” He looked at her mouth – one of his favorite of her many sexy features – and had no doubt that the last thing she’d done before getting out of her car was freshen her gloss. He knew her so well. And she’d reapplied her gloss because she knew him so well.
Watching him watching her, she smiled her sexy smile again.
The night ahead flashed before Brandon’s mental eye. He was going to be in Andrea up to his kidneys when Terri rang his doorbell, because God is a practical joker, and sometimes a cruel one.
“Do you feel like Chinese, my treat?” Andrea asked.
She said, “I’m thinking we order some food, sip some wine while we watch this and relive some wonderful memories.”
He stepped closer to her. “And decide if we need to make a sequel?”
Andrea gazed up at him, and her sexy smile transformed into a victory smile (he knew her so well). She said, “Then we can start our undress rehearsals tonight.”
Brandon lowered his face to kiss her. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled in anticipation of the doorbell chiming.
“Everything okay?” Andrea asked.
Brandon gave her a smile that he wasn’t completely feeling and said, “How could they not be, all things considered?”
A thing to consider was Andrea stretched out on his den sofa on her stomach, with her face in his lap.
A thing not to consider was that it was just after 7:00 p.m., and there was still a possibility (though becoming less likely) that Terri would show up.
“You seem a little distracted,” Andrea said.
The curse of having once been best friends: They knew each other so well.
Brandon slid his hand down Andrea’s back to the generous swell of her bottom. Another thing to consider was that since she’d come over straight from work, she’d wanted to take a shower, after which she’d put on one of his tee-shirts. Only his tee-shirt.
He pulled the bottom of the tee-shirt up to the small of her back. Andrea’s sexy smile turned wicked. She had a nice ass – one of the best – and she knew it. And, she knew he knew it. Thus her wicked smile.
She held him grasped gently in her hand. Gazing at her amazing ass, he pulsed against her soft palm. She wrapped her wicked smile around him.
As Andrea demonstrated one of the amazing powers that made her a superhero among women, Brandon stared across the room at the cable box clock. He watched the blood red LED change: 7:12…7:13…7:14. How late before it would be too late, so that he could relax?
The doorbell chimed. Brandon jumped. Andrea gagged.
She sat up, frowned at him and said, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah…I was kind of lost in the moment,” he lied.
He started to close his pants, but Andrea said, “I’ll get it.” She looked at his lap and smiled at her handiwork. “You’re in no condition.”
She stood up, turned her back to him, and leaned to the coffee table to pick up her credit card. She bent over low enough to give him a view of what was important in life, and then pranced away to answer the door.
When she was gone Brandon closed his pants, sat back and got ready. Either the delivery person bringing their dinner or Terri bringing hellfire would be at the door.
He hoped that God wasn’t in the mood for one of His jokes.
Long Branch, New Jersey
“Do you think she wants to get back together?” Lucas asked.
Evan stood at the glass balcony doors of Lucas’ oceanfront condo, watching white surf on a black ocean. He’d stopped by Lucas’ place after work, partly on a whim, and partly because Lucas knew women as well as anyone. He wanted his opinion on his situation with Freda. He said, “I don’t know, man. I think maybe she’s just feeling lonely, and I’m a safe bet.”
“I’m guessing it’s a safe bet for you, too,” Lucas said.
“No doubt. There’s a lot more bullshit to wade through dating these days than there used to be, so I can definitely relate to her on that. Speaking of dating, I’m surprised to catch you at home the day after Valentine’s Day.”
“Man, I’ve been non-stop for five days straight. I need air. So you like Freda giving you booty calls?”
“I’m not complaining.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“There isn’t one right now, not for me. I thought about it, and I can get with keeping things as they are, with us being friends.”
“You mean friends with benefits.”
“With Freda Michaels.”
“You know you’re out of your fucking mind, don’t you?”
“How do you figure?”
“Evan, I’ve known Freda almost as long as I’ve known you. She’s not the friends with benefits type, not even for you.”
“So you think she’s going to want to turn this into some kind of relationship?”
“Come on man, you know Freda. From the moment you let her into your bed, in her mind you were in a relationship. She’s just waiting for you to read that headline.”
“She can wait all she wants, because things are fine with me as they are. She wanted out of being married and she got it. So we can work with what’s left.”
“Well as a friend to you both, I hope you get back together. You were good together – better than any couple I know. But more important, I haven’t had any of Freda’s Chicken Melanese since you split up, and I’m sick of that bullshit.”
Evan’s cell phone beeped that he had a new text message. He checked it out and said, “Speak of the devil.”
Grinning, Lucas said, “I was about to offer you another beer, but I guess you’re on your way out to answer a booty call.”
“Nah, she’s telling me that she just got out of an emergency session with a patient. It’s a crazy situation. She wants to know if I’m busy so she can give me the latest.”
“I thought that stuff was confidential between the doctor and the patient.”
“She’s only telling me.”
“Uh-huh. And that’s the kind of thing you share with a spouse – not with a booty call.”
Terri felt better as she left Dr. Michael’s office, but she was still on the fence about what she should do about Brandon. On that part Freda had been no help. She’d just turned the question back on her with the standard, ‘What do you want to do?’ crap. Hell, if she knew what she wanted to do, she wouldn’t have asked Freda for a short-notice session.
Freda had actually looked shocked when she told her that Brandon had come to her place last night talking about wanting a relationship. But she’d recovered in a hurry. Then she got on her usual ‘Look at yourself in a mirror’ game:
“What did he say, Terri?”
“He told me to quit working so we could be more than platonic friends.”
“And how did that make you feel?”
“It made me feel like he’s an asshole, that’s how it made me feel. He told me to come to his place today, like he was giving me an ultimatum. Who the hell does he think he is?”
“What if he’d asked you in a different way?”
“Well, let’s say he’d asked you if you would consider not working for the sake of your being together. Would you have considered it?”
“Well, he didn’t ask me that way, so the point is moot, isn’t it?”
“Is it, Terri?”
Fucking Freda, always answering questions with questions. She’d gone to her for answers this evening, not for more questions to deal with.
But what if Brandon had come to her correct? What if he had told her in a different way that he wanted to get with her? Would she have gone for it? Well, it would’ve been a better way to at least start things off. She’d still have to make him suffer for a while for having that naked cow in his house, but it would’ve been a start.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a moot point.
Fuck you Freda, Miss Know-It-All.
Her dashboard clock read 8:42. It was still early, and she didn’t want to go home with all the extra questions Freda had given her to carry.
Too bad she couldn’t go to Brandon’s and just relax. She had to admit, she really missed that. When she was at his house it was like her real life didn’t even exist. Being with him was a pleasant escape from her reality.
So how hard would it be to swallow just a little bit of pride and go over there? Real hard, that’s how hard. If she went over there it would be like she was obeying his command. Now way in hell would she give him that satisfaction. Besides, he had a good cussing out coming before things could be smooth between them.
Terri decided to hell with it, she was going home.
(To be continued)
Platonic Pt. 4
Terri drove out of Manhattan mad. The customer last night had been a special kind of asshole.
He was an actor, but not a very famous one. At least she’d never heard of him. He’d spent most of the early evening yesterday bragging about his next movie, which he claimed was going to be a summer action blockbuster, something about time travel and spaceships. He took her to a prescreening – one of those showings in which the studio gauges early fan reaction.
The movie sucked. Some people actually booed. She almost felt sorry for her customer. But then back in his hotel room he decided to take his disappointment out on her by trying to knock her back through the box springs. It was a good thing he had a tiny dick, so she really didn’t feel anything but his thighs and knees banging her. But she didn’t tell him that. He was already hurt and embarrassed enough about his pathetic movie.
But she was mad that she’d been in a position to let her body be used by someone to take out their frustrations about their life.
She was tired of being used.
Early retirement was starting to look real good.
Michelle – who ran the house – encouraged the girls to have a goal of getting out of the business by the time they were thirty. Terri was twenty-six. She didn’t want to do this for another four years. Not anymore.
Until recently she’d never felt ashamed about what she did for a living. She provided a service that people desired, even needed. She’d told herself that it was no different than selling food. Some people cooked and ate at home. Others went out and paid for it. Michelle’s house was the 5-star restaurant of the escort business. Terri hadn’t necessarily been proud of her work, but she hadn’t been ashamed, either.
At least she hadn’t felt ashamed until she’d met a man who didn’t want her for her body. He’d valued her for her friendship. He’d allowed her to like him (Okay, like him a lot). And then he’d spit in her face. He showed her how little he thought of her by sleeping with some two-bit tramp who fucked for free.
She should’ve punched him instead of her. That bitch didn’t even count. This was all Brandon’s fault.
Yeah, retirement was looking real good. She’d lived frugally since getting in the business. If she quit working right now, she had enough money saved to live and even to maintain her current standard of living for another year. Well, to be smart she’d have to cut out some things, like buying a new clothing item every week, and the therapy sessions with Dr. Michaels she’d just set up.
So she could quit, and then what – go back to being a sales clerk? The economy still sucked. Decent jobs were hard to come by. Right now, working no more than a few hours for three or four days a week, she was making more money than anybody she’d ever known personally, except for Michelle and Brandon.
She wondered what her new therapist was going to have to say about him.
“If he was paying you for friendship then perhaps he has unresolved issues in his life that don’t allow him to be truly close to people,” Dr. Michaels said.
“Well, he was sure close to that chick in his house. She was only wearing a towel. The bitch actually flashed me. That’s why I went off. I felt like she was spitting in my face; like she was saying, ‘I’m getting this and you’re not.’”
“Do you think it was the perceived insult or the reality that angered you to violence?”
“Meaning that perhaps you were already upset because this woman was sleeping with Brandon and you weren’t, even though that was your agreement and what he paid for – a platonic relationship with you.”
“So you’re saying I hit her because I was jealous?”
“Or because you were hurt.”
“That would mean I have feelings for him.”
“So this is how this works – we sit here and talk like we’re girlfriends, but you’re really giving me a shovel to dig up my feelings so we can look at them?”
Freda smiled at her. “I prefer to think that I’m holding up a mirror so that you can look at yourself. You mentioned having feelings for Brandon. Do you?”
Terri shrugged. “Nah. It was just a job.”
“I mean, he’s a cool guy and all, and it was nice hanging out with him, but…you know…”
“I don’t know. Tell me.”
“I already said. It was just a job.”
“Were you working when you had the altercation with this other woman?”
“Okay, I see what you’re doing here. You’re trying to get me to say that I had feelings for a client, so I wasn’t in control professionally.”
“I don’t want to get you to say anything, Terri. Therapy isn’t about saying things; it’s about self-discovery that leads to personal healing. My job is to show you the roads you might travel toward self-discovery, but to allow you to do your own walking.”
“All right. So show me a road.”
“Let’s change directions for a moment, Terri. I’d like to explore another area.”
“What – we going to talk about my childhood, or how my parents didn’t understand me?”
“Not unless you’d like to.”
“I wouldn’t. So what other area?”
“Tell me how things typically work with a customer. What’s the protocol when you meet a client?”
“Protocol? It’s all just bullshit, you know? I pretend that I’m attracted to the guy. He knows I’m pretending, but he lets me lie to him. Most of the time it’s the same routine: Have drink, ask a few personal questions like I actually care, and then ask him what he likes to do in bed. Then whatever he likes, I pretend it turns me on so much; all a bunch of bullshit so my savings account grows.”
“And how was it with Brandon?”
“I thought we were exploring another area.”
“I’d like to compare your experiences with him to those with your other clients – the ones you say are just bullshit.”
“We just hung out. Did other things. We’d go places sometimes, or just do regular things around the house. Around his house.”
“Can you describe one of those regular things for me?”
“I don’t know. They were just regular things; nothing special.”
“All right. So of the things you did when you were visiting his house, which do you recall as a favorite experience?”
“Well…okay, this is nothing special, okay? It’s just a regular thing. But…I don’t know…”
“What is it, Terri?”
“Okay well, Brandon has an office in the city, but he telecommutes a lot. To be honest, I think there were some days that he would have gone to his office to work, but I was there, so he worked from home.”
“Did he tell you that that was why he stayed home?”
“No, but I just get this feeling sometimes. Like, maybe he’ll say something the night before that sounds like he’s going to do something at the office the next day, but then he’ll stay home. I even asked him one time if I was keeping him from work. He said there was almost nothing he did at the office that he couldn’t do from home.”
“So it was the staying home because you were there that was special?”
“What? Oh no, that wasn’t it. Anyway, in the mornings Brandon has his thing; his routine. He gets up, puts on his coffee, and sits in the breakfast nook sipping coffee and reading his newspapers. The dude reads like three newspapers every morning, can you believe it? The Wall Street Journal; USA Today; the Asbury Park Press…”
“You noticed which newspapers he reads.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I’m right there sometimes, so I look at them too.”
“So you have coffee with him in the mornings when you visit?”
“That’s what I was getting to. When I’m at the house, I can get whatever I want. I mean, when he told me to make myself at home, he was serious. So he always beats me out of bed in the morning –“
“Out of bed?”
“Oh, not like that. I have my own bedroom. What I meant was he always beats me downstairs. So when I come down, I make myself whatever I want for breakfast. Well, I’m not going to cook myself a big spread and not make some for him, too, and then sit there in his face and eat it. That would seem selfish. So I make enough for him, too.”
“And what happens when you prepare breakfast for the two of you?”
“What do you mean?”
“We were talking about one of the things you did with Brandon that was a favorite thing of yours. What’s that thing?”
Terri shrugged. “That was it; just being regular. I mean, when I sit down, he puts his newspapers aside and we talk about everything under the sun and enjoy our breakfast, just like…and just be regular.”
“You were going to say just like something. Just like what?”
“Nothing. I was talking too fast and misspoke.”
“Are you certain about that Terri?”
“Is my hour up yet?”
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
“I know what you’re thinking,” Freda said. “Give me an inch and all that. I apologize for just showing up and not calling first. I promise it wasn’t my intent. But you live so close to the office and I was literally around the corner, so…”
“It’s no problem,” Evan said. “Come on in.” As Freda walked past him into his living room he hoped that her stopping by unannounced wasn’t going to become a habit. Then it would become a problem. But he could tell by her face that something wasn’t quite right.
As he helped her out of her coat he asked, “Everything okay?”
She had her back to him as she stepped to the sofa. She wore a gray knit pullover over a black pencil skirt, seamed stockings and high heels that looked more sinful than professional. The curve of her hips and bottom under her tight skirt made him think about last week, when he’d slipped up and let her spend the night.
She shrugged. He knew what that meant because he knew her. She didn’t trust her voice to speak because her emotions were about to overflow.
“Hey, what happened? What’s wrong?”
Freda plopped down on his sofa. He sat next to her.
She said, “I feel like I’m screwing up on the job. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go.”
“Screwing up how?”
“Well, last year I had these patients – a married couple. Their main issue was selfishness. They were both selfish, and their intimacy suffered for it. He wanted sex so he could feel romantic toward her. She wanted romance so she could feel sexual toward him. Neither was willing to give the other what they needed in order to get what they wanted.”
“So how did you screw up?”
“I got tired of their crap and referred them to Siobhan.”
“Siobhan Henry – the woman who thinks that the cure for everything from a sprained ankle to cancer is sex?”
“The one and only. It was a bad recommendation on my part. I just wanted the couple to get off the starting block and start running, because I was tired of dealing with them. So they ended up going to Siobhan’s house for one of her ‘playhouse’ sessions.”
“And what happened?”
“Now the couple is separated and on their way to divorce.”
(AUTHOR’s NOTE: What happened with the couple Freda is referring to is detailed in the novel, The Playhouse)
“So that’s why you’re upset?”
“I’m upset because I’m screwing up again, with a new patient.”
“I must go into screw up mode with patients named Terri. Both of my female patients have that name. In this case, I took on the new patient knowing about her background because someone she knows has been my patient for years.”
“Damn – isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
“It’s unethical, which is why I referred the other patient – Brandon – to Dave Leonard. But that doesn’t eliminate the issue of ethics. And, I wonder how it will affect my objectivity when helping Terri through her issues. Am I going to let her come to her own conclusions and make her own decisions, or am I going to guide her because I know both sides of the relationship she had with Brandon?”
“Hold on a second. How did this Terri woman come to be your patient?”
“I asked her how she’d heard about my practice during our initial interview, before I agreed to be her therapist. She told me that her friend Brandon said he’d seen me, so when she felt that she needed to talk to someone, she came to me. I knew right away who she was. I should have referred her to someone else.”
Now tears slid down Freda’s cheeks. In another life Evan knew that seeing her cry would have made him want to pick up his sword and go fight and kill whatever was responsible for her tears. But that was in another life, when she was his wife.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to show a little human compassion.
He put his arm around his ex-wife and held her and listened as she told him about Brandon and Terri.
Freda painted Brandon as something of a wealthy, emotionally detached asshole. She had a more sympathetic opinion of Terri. In her view Terri may have chosen an illicit way to make a living, but she still had a heart.
Well, of course she did. But Evan could see Brandon’s side of things, too. Terri was a hooker. No matter how nice a person she was, and no matter how high class a call girl she might be, when it got right down to it, she still let strange men stick their dicks in her for money. She might be the sweetest person in the world, but as relationship deal breakers go, prostitution was a pretty big deal.
“So what do you think?” Freda asked.
“I think you shouldn’t treat Terri any more. There is an issue of ethics, and you don’t want to cause yourself problems down the road.”
“But she does need help, Evan.”
“Then refer her like you referred Brandon, and get yourself out of the middle of it.”
“I don’t know; I think if I keep personal feelings out of it, I could help her.”
“Okay, then consider this: Why would Terri come to you when there are so many therapists to choose from? Why would she pick you when she has to know that by treating Brandon, you might know what happened between them? It wouldn’t make sense, unless she picked you because you did know. Moreover, I bet she figures you know where Brandon’s heart lies, so she’s using you to get that information for herself. Maybe she’s going to end up picking your brains for information about him. Maybe she’s really the unethical one, not you.”
Freda had been snuggled against him while he had his arm wrapped around her shoulder to comfort her. Now she leaned away from him on the sofa, smiling.
“You know what, Evan? Maybe you should’ve been the psychiatrist in the family. That hadn’t occurred to me, and it’s an excellent observation.”
“You would have thought of it as soon as you took your personal feelings out of the situation. You’re an excellent therapist. Always have been.”
“Well, thank you anyway.”
She slid back to him and wrapped her arms around his body and hugged him tight. He let her. And then she planted a kiss as soft as a whisper on his neck.
“I’m sorry,” Freda said. “I bet I interrupted whatever you were doing for dinner.”
“No problem. I was just going to order out. I’m thinking about pizza. You want some?”
Evan fastened his pants and called and ordered a half pepperoni and sausage for himself and the other half cheese for Freda. When he hung up he said, “It’ll be here in about forty minutes.”
Freda got up off the sofa and began looking around, at the sofa and the carpet around it. Evan watched her, thinking that the way she looked right now would make a nice wallpaper image for his computer. His cell phone was on the coffee table, but he wasn’t sure if she’d appreciate him taking a picture of her. After all, they weren’t married anymore.
In a frustrated gesture, Freda put her fists on her hips and said, “Okay, where are my panties? We haven’t left this sofa.”
“I think wearing only stocking and heels is a good look for you. Nice trim job, too.”
“Shut up, perv.” She was trying to sound aggravated, but she was smiling.
“Seriously, why put your clothes back on? I’m enjoying the view.”
“Well, I don’t want the delivery guy enjoying the view, too.”
“It’ll be the best tip he ever received, by far.”
“And believe me, it’s not going to happen.”
“Then at least let me take a picture before you get dressed.”
“No way. I don’t want my bare ass all over the internet.”
“I wouldn’t do that. I was only going to show it to the dudes at the gym, and maybe to a few patients.”
“I always liked your ass. Hold still.” He picked up his cell phone.
“Okay, now turn to the side…”
“Damn, that’s nice. Your nipples are hard. Now turn all the way around, so I can get that sexy booty.”
“You’re the devil, do you know that?”
New York City
Unable to focus on work, Brandon gazed through his office window, watching the protesters five stories below. They were rallying against the one percent, the people they thought didn’t care. People like him.
Well, those people didn’t have a clue about what he cared about, just like Freda Michaels didn’t have a clue.
So what if she got rid of him as a patient? After ten years they were spinning their wheels anyway. But he wasn’t going to waste time and money on a new doctor. He was done talking and getting nowhere.
But there was one thing Freda was right about: He needed to bring closure to old issues.
It was Valentine’s Day. That was as good a reason as any to contact her.
He pulled her up in his email contact list and typed a new email, just a simple one-liner:
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
She could take it however she wanted to. Considering all that had happened between them, she wouldn’t think he was trying to be romantic. He was just being friendly.
He started to click the “send” icon, but then decided that the message looked too plain. After a couple of minutes of searching the web he found a nice image of a dozen red roses. He inserted the image below his message.
He sent the message, and then got back to work.
He was only busy for a few minutes when he received a reply email from her:
Aw, thank you! You’re so sweet.
So I haven’t heard from you in ages. Did you just get back to Earth or something?
(To be continued)
Platonic: The Session
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
The Office of Dr. Freda Michaels
“I’m not gay,” Robyn said.
“When’s the last time you saw Elle?” Freda asked.
“This past weekend…I went down to Richmond.”
“And were you intimate with her on your visit?”
“It wasn’t planned. I mean, that’s not why I went there. We’re friends. We have a lot in common, like owning our own businesses. Elle and I were actually talking about putting together some kind of alliance, you know, a consortium of black women business owners. Maybe you’d like to be a part of it Freda. I mean, you’re a psychologist. You have your own practice. Wait – are you a psychologist or a psychiatrist?”
“I’m a psychiatrist.”
“A medical doctor as well as a head doctor, huh?”
“Yes. So let’s get back on point, Robyn.”
“The point is that I’m not gay. I like men. I love men.”
“Is there a man in your life currently? Anyone new since our last session?”
“When was our last session?”
“You were last here in April.”
“Nope, nobody new.”
“What about your friend Jon?”
“He’s seeing someone now…the secretary at his office. They’re getting pretty serious.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I have no right to be upset. I had my chance. Jon wanted us to give it a try, but I kept him in the friend zone. So I have no business being mad about him finding someone.”
“Are you mad about it?”
“No…I don’t know…”
Freda observed that Robyn fidgeted on the sofa. She waited to see if she’d say more.
“Okay, I’m pissed,” Robyn said. “But I’m pissed at myself, not at Jon or Toni.”
“That’s her name – his secretary. She’s really nice…and beautiful. I can tell they’re happy together.”
“Yes, I have regrets. Do you know how hard it is to find a good man these days? See, Freda, that’s the whole issue. It’s not that I have a thing for women. I just can’t seem to meet a man who has his shit together – a man who’s worth getting involved with.”
“Didn’t Jon have his…shit together?”
“Well yes, but…I don’t know. I wasn’t ready then…I don’t know…”
“What about the man you talked about…the author?”
“I thought about that.”
“Well, the first issue is that he and Elle have their thing, you know? They’re friends with benefits. I don’t want to get in the middle of what they have and mess them up.”
“Because Elle is your friend?”
“And yet you can be intimate with Elle. Isn’t that getting in the middle of what they have?”
“Because I’m not gay, Freda. Nothing is going to be serious with that. I want a man in my life. Hell, I’ve got my own pussy. I don’t need another one.”
“So what’s Elle’s purpose in your life, Robyn?”
“Human contact. Sexual release. Trust.”
“Is there a potential for love?”
“Not like that. Nope. Are you married, Freda?”
“For how long?”
Freda didn’t want to allow Robyn to change the line of questioning to talking about her life. The sessions were about the patient, not the doctor. But she thought that this might be leading somewhere. “For just over a year,” she said.
“I’ve been divorced for eight years,” Robyn said. “But I’ve told you that. I wouldn’t take him back for all the stock in Exxon and Apple combined. But I miss going to sleep at night in the arms of someone who loves me. I miss someone kissing or nudging me awake in the morning because he wants some. I miss having someone in my life who’s in my life, you know?”
“But you’ve spent many years since your divorce running away from that very thing, Robyn. Do you feel differently now?”
“I’m so tired, Freda. I’m tired of running away. I’m tired of being scared to trust. I look around and I see couples everywhere. They look happy, at least on the surface. I know they probably go through shit with each other, but they still have each other. I think about Jon, about what a cool guy he is. I can tell when he talks about Toni how much he cares for her, and I can’t help thinking that he could have been talking like that and feeling like that about me. But I let my fear push him away. Toni is a nice person. I try not to hate her. But when I go to bed alone and think about her going to bed with him…I’m just so…so tired of…”
Robyn slumped back into the sofa and put a hand over her face. Freda handed her a box of tissues and said, “Would you like to take a break?”
Robyn dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. “No, no I’m fine. It’s not even about sex, you know? It’s about having that someone you can talk to and be with…share with.”
“Can I ask you a question, Freda?”
“How long were you married?”
“I…I was married for twenty-six years.”
“Twenty-six years? Wait, how old are you?”
“I’m fifty years old.”
“Oh my God, Freda, you look amazing! Now I hate you. How do you stay so skinny? I mean, what are you, like a six?”
Freda smiled. “It’s just a trick of genetics. I was skinny as a rail for most of my life, even after two children. I didn’t start to fill out until I was in my forties.”
“So let me guess – that’s when your ex decided he wanted something young and skinny.”
“No, it wasn’t like that,” Freda said. “We’re still friends.”
“So you don’t hate his guts?”
“I don’t hate him.”
“May I ask what happened?”
“No Robyn, you may not.”
Robyn was Freda’s last patient of the day. After she was gone Freda locked up and sat at her desk, thinking about things. She thought about those couples Robyn saw, living their shared lives. Freda saw those same couples. She knew what Robyn was going through. She felt that same envy that Robyn felt when she saw other couples. She felt that emptiness too. She felt the loneliness.
She grabbed one of the tissues for herself, and cursed herself for her self-pity. Robyn had a right to cry. Her husband had abandoned her. Freda knew she had no such right. After all, she’d gotten exactly what she’d asked for.
She just hadn’t realized that freedom would hurt so much.
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
Evan was preparing dinner when his phone rang. He checked the caller ID. Seeing who was calling, he felt a twinge in his gut. He took a deep breath and answered.
“Hey, what are you up to?” she asked.
“Making dinner. What’s up?”
“Oh, what are you making?”
She sounded cheerful and sweet, that professional voice she used when conducting business or dealing with her patients.
After their breakup she’d started using that voice when speaking to him, too. It was like she was being extra careful and polite when they talked. Like she didn’t want to say anything that might release the explosion of anger that hadn’t yet come forth after what she’d done. Like she knew she deserved the cussing out that he hadn’t yet given her. So she was careful not to push the wrong button. So whenever they talked, her voice was always syrupy sweet.
He hated that fucking voice.
“I’m making Thai stir fry, with chicken,” he said. “Some stuff I found at Pathmark.”
“Oh, that sounds good! I’m just leaving the office and I’m starving. Got enough to share?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I should have asked…you’re not having company, are you?”
“No, no company.”
“I can add some rice to stretch it out.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll be there in a minute.”
He looked so good, so handsome standing in front of the stove in his shirt and tie with his sleeves rolled up. Freda tried to remember why it used to irritate her so much that he rarely dressed casually unless it was the weekend. He looked so sexy in his professional attire.
She remembered the times when he’d beat her home from work; she’d come in and he’d be working on dinner, dressed just like this, like he was going to a board meeting instead of chilling at home. He’d smile at her and give her a hug and a kiss and feel her up, and then make some corny crack about having her for dessert.
Why had she grown tired of hearing that?
“That smells amazing,” Freda said.
He shrugged and stirred, keeping his eyes on the wok. “Yeah well, it’s not like I did anything. The seasonings came in the bag.”
“I was only saying that it smells good.”
He nodded, but kept his eyes on the wok instead of looking at her as he spoke. There was a time when he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
Why were things so awkward and strained between them now? It wasn’t like they didn’t know each other, like they hadn’t been best friends as well as husband and wife for over half their lives.
She’d never wanted it like this. She’d thought that after a time they’d revive their closeness, that they’d still be a part of each other’s lives…still be friends…just not be married. She hadn’t anticipated that she’d lose all of Evan.
She tried to remember what it was about marriage that she’d needed to get away from.
Evan looked at her suddenly. His face lit up as if he’d just remembered something. “Hey, I had a patient this morning,” he said, “someone who’d be right up your alley.”
Freda walked across the kitchen to him, relieved that he was out of his mood. “Oh really? How so?”
“She thought she was pregnant,” Evan said. “She was convinced of it.”
“Why is that up my alley?”
“One, because this girl is a virgin. I examined her; she’s still intact, and never been close to intercourse, according to what she told me. Two, she said she was experiencing morning sickness. But here’s the crazy part: She says that she’s never been with a man, but that her twin sister, who just got married, is pregnant.”
“So she’s feeling psychological empathy.”
“That’s what I suggested. But she claims that she knows when her twin is having sex…that she feels the…sensations, even to the point of orgasm.”
“So I asked her if she knew if her twin was actually having sex when she felt the sexual sensations. She said that she’d asked her, and yes, it was at the same times…including on the night of her sister’s honeymoon. She said she felt the pain and even saw some blood on the night her twin sister lost her virginity. What do you think of that?”
“Well, a lot of the non-physical similarities between twins are learned behavior. But there’s no real proof that twins share a physical or psychic empathic bond. There are stories, of course…”
“So how do you explain my patient feeling the sexual sensations at the exact same time her sister and her husband are doing it?”
“I can’t explain it.”
“Is this someone you’d want to talk to? Maybe I could refer her.”
“I suppose, if she wants to talk about it.”
“I don’t know how she’ll take me suggesting she see a shrink. She’s convinced that what she’s feeling is real.”
“Well, if she wants to talk, have her call the office.”
Evan turned back to the stove and dumped rice into the stir fry mix. Now that the job talk was over it looked like he’d gone back into his shell.
“I’m sorry, Evan.”
“For what happened with us.”
“Freda, you apologized two years ago.”
“And you didn’t accept my apology.”
“I didn’t say that I didn’t accept it.”
“But I could tell by the way you acted that you didn’t accept it, and that you weren’t going to forgive me.”
“It was kind of tough you know, to be forgiving when someone rips your heart out and steps on it.”
“I’m sorry, Evan.”
“You’re apologizing again, Freda. Let it go. Move on.”
“Have you moved on?”
“I didn’t have a choice. It was move on or die.”
“I’m sor –“
“Don’t say it again, okay?” Evan spooned up some of the stir fry and held it out to her. “Taste,” he said.
She tried it, smiled. “Mmm, it’s good. You always were a better cook than me.”
“You can thank Pathmark for this one,” he said.
He actually cracked a smile. He hardly ever smiled on the few occasions they’d been together since she ended their marriage. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted him to kiss her. They used to kiss all the time, every day. For them, kissing used to be like breathing.
Why had she wanted to stop breathing?
“So, have you found what you were looking for?” he asked.
“That thing you needed to find, that thing that marriage was keeping from you.”
It had made so much sense to her back then. She was two years away from fifty. She had the education, the career, and the two great kids that had grown up to start their own medical practices. She had the marriage, the great husband who just happened to think that a shirt and tie was normal attire.
That had been the problem. She’d believed that she was entering middle age and the beginning of the end of her life and had only ever known normal.
She thought about her patient Robyn, and how she’d spent years wanting normal, but was afraid to trust someone to give it to her. She’d been afraid of being hurt again. She and Robyn were alike. They’d both been afraid of normal, but for different reasons. But in the end they’d come to the same conclusion via different paths.
Normal was a blessing.
“I found some answers,” she said.
“Well good. I’m happy for you.”
“What if I don’t like the answers I found?”
He looked at her, into her eyes. She could tell that he was searching for the meaning of her words in her eyes. She hoped that he could read the truth. She hoped that he could see the regret.
He turned away, started spooning the stir fry onto a plate. “We’ve all had those days, Freda.”
“What do you mean?”
“As married people, we’ve all had those days in which we wonder what it would be like to have our lives belong to us again. We’ve all wondered what it would be like to be able to do what we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it. We’ve wondered what it would be like to not be accountable, to not have to figure the feelings of another person into the equation of our lives. Sometimes we’ve yearned for that. God knows I had those days.”
He handed her the plate. Like always, he gave to her before he gave to himself. The gesture was automatic, as natural for him as walking. He’d always been that way, since even before that day over half their lives ago when they’d declared their love for each other. He’d always put her first.
“The thing is, Freda, for me, there was never anything more important to me than you. Yes, there were days when I thought about how nice it might be to be free and single again. There were days when you got on my fucking nerves, just like I know there were days when I got on yours. But for me, I understood there wasn’t anything better than what I had, you know? I didn’t need to ask that question. I didn’t need to be single to know the truth. For me, my love for you overrode all other considerations.”
His words stung her worse that if he’d cursed her out, called her names. She took her plate and went to the table…to his table, in his kitchen. This was the place he’d made for himself when she’d told him that she didn’t want them to be them anymore. The place he bought after he’d packed up and moved out of the home they’d made together.
When normal turned into alone.
He hadn’t meant to say so much. But it felt good to get it off his chest.
Two years ago, when she’d said that she needed something else, he’d gone numb. Beyond those few hours of discussion, they hadn’t talked about it. What was the point? Whatever feelings Freda had for him weren’t strong enough to sustain their marriage. So that was it.
He didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with him. He’d loved Freda with everything he’d had within himself. But he thought too much of himself to go out like that. He’d been too proud to beg, or to even ask why. The fact that she wanted out was enough.
As they ate they talked about the kids, caught up on each other’s families, made other bullshit small talk. He knew Freda had something she wanted to say. He knew her. He’d spent half his life being attuned to her nonverbal signals. When you loved someone you paid attention.
“Can I ask you a question?” Freda asked.
Okay, here we go…
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Do you ever think about having sex, just for the sake of having sex?”
“I’m a man, Freda. That’s a basic principle of my existence.”
She laughed. When she laughed the stress melted from her face. Until that moment he hadn’t realized how stressed she’d looked.
When her giggles subsided he said, “Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering how um…busy you’ve been lately,” she said.
“That’s a very personal question.”
“But have you?”
“We shouldn’t go there. I definitely don’t want to know what you’ve been doing and who you’ve been doing it with.”
“The last man I slept with was you.”
Evan looked at Freda, stunned. “Are you serious? You’re smoking hot. You could snap your fingers and get laid every day. Why –“
“One of the things I’ve learned is that there’s a lot to be said for being with someone you have a bond with. Someone you trust. I’ve dated, sure. I have needs. But damn…you look at someone and you ask yourself if that person is worth it…worth giving yourself to just for the sex of it. The answer for me has been no.”
“So you’re waiting for emotional involvement.”
“I haven’t met anyone that I trust.”
“So, what about you?”
“I date too.”
She smiled at him. “You know what I mean.”
“More right after we split than lately. Everybody is looking for a husband. Some look at sex as foreplay for marriage. I’m not the one.”
“You don’t want to get married again?”
“I’m enjoying living my life stress free.”
“Gee, thanks a lot.”
“Isn’t this how you felt two years ago?”
“I told you I didn’t like the answers I found. Hey, thank you for dinner. It was delicious.”
“So Evan…what would I have to say to get you to take me to bed?”
Evan sat still, trying to recover himself, trying to get over the shock of her question. How many times had he gone over a scenario like this? How many times had he asked, “What if?” It was more times than he could recall. And he’d always come to the same conclusion.
“It wouldn’t be the same,” he said.
“I know,” she sighed.
“Then why would you want to?”
“Because I trust you. And I need to feel loved.”
He made himself not say what he was thinking, that he didn’t love her anymore. He didn’t hate Freda…that would be wasted emotion. But in self-defense he’d had to make himself stop loving her. No one could continue loving someone the way he’d loved Freda and survive losing them. That kind of misery should be reserved only for souls in Hell. But she was a good person at heart, and there was no need for him to be cruel to her.
She said, “I was hungry and you shared your dinner with me. Why?”
“Because you were hungry.”
“And you had compassion.”
“There’s nothing wrong with passion out of compassion.”
“Freda, it just wouldn’t be the same. We don’t have what we used to have.”
“You mean you don’t love me now.”
“I had to move on.”
“And you haven’t forgiven me.”
“I accept things for what they are. I don’t bear you any ill will. I accept that you’re a daughter of Eve.”
“What’s that mean?”
“The status quo is never quite good enough.”
“We all make mistakes, Evan.”
“You’re saying you made a mistake?”
“Are you looking for a confession?”
“It was a question, based on your comment.”
“I thought I wanted something else.”
“I know. But like I said, everyone has those feelings. I’ve had them. But there was never a time that I wanted to end our marriage. I loved you with everything I had in me. I understood my blessing. I appreciated being in The Garden.”
“God is a forgiving god,” Freda said. “You don’t think that He forgave Adam and Eve?”
“I’m sure He forgave them. But He didn’t let them back into Eden, either.”
“That sounds a bit self-righteous, Evan. You’re not God. You’re Adam.”
“I’m not being self-righteous. But I know that we can’t recoup what we’ve lost. Not sexually or any other way. Do you remember when you apologized the first time? You said that you hoped that I’d be able to move on.”
“Well, I did,” he said. “I had to. You left me no choice in that matter. I picked up my ruined heart, put it back together as best I could and got on with my life. It’s not that I haven’t considered trying again, because I have, so many times. But I know that even if we did, even just on the sexual level, it won’t be as good as it was. Before, sex with you was always about love, even when we were doing the freakiest, nastiest shit we could think of. Love was always there. Now, it would just be fucking. I can fuck any other woman in the world, Freda. But I can’t just fuck you. It would be disrespecting what we used to have.”
“That’s sweet of you to say. But it wouldn’t be that way – us just fucking. You can’t erase a bond built over almost thirty years.”
“Maybe I don’t want to settle for something less than what I had.”
“Well then, how about something different than what we had?”
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
Freda went through his refrigerator, found some bacon, eggs and frozen hash browns. Not a sign of fresh fruit anywhere. Apparently twenty-six years of training hadn’t stuck. Well, at least it was an improvement over what she’d found in the fridge in the apartment he’d lived in when they first met. All he’d had in that one was bologna, mustard and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.
She carried the food to the stove, found his pots and pans and got breakfast started. Then she padded through his condo, figuring she’d snoop a little while he was upstairs.
She wore his shirt – the one he’d worn yesterday – over her nakedness. It bore the scent of his cologne. It felt nice against her skin. It made her feel close to him. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed that feeling. It made her want to cry…again.
She’d cried last night as they made love. She’d cried because it had been so long since she’d been loved. She’d cried because it felt so good. She’d cried because he didn’t kiss her, not once. She’d cried because he didn’t whisper how much he loved her, or how good she felt to him, the way he used to. She’d cried because in regaining a part of what she’d lost, she’d realized that there were parts that might be lost forever.
But as Freda walked through Evan’s condo she realized something else. She was excited again. There was an unknown quality in their relationship now. There hadn’t been anything unknown in their marriage for many years. They’d worked hard to establish stability in their lives. They’d achieved that. She realized now that that stability was what had unsettled her, and made her so unhappy. But now, she didn’t know what might happen. She didn’t know what he might eventually do about them.
Last night she’d cried over what she’d lost. This morning she was excited about being in something new.
There was a thrill in not knowing. Is this why some women preferred the so-called thug over the so-called good man, because not knowing what an unreliable man might do was exciting?
You’re a daughter of Eve.
She hadn’t felt this way with Evan for a long time. But being in his new place reminded her of when they began dating almost thirty years ago, back when they were in medical school and he had his little bachelor’s apartment.
She stood in the entry to his living room, smiling. This was certainly an improvement over that first place. Evan actually had furniture that matched now; good, quality leather stuff. And he had a real coffee table with a crystal centerpiece. Back in the day his coffee table was a cable spool he’d found at a construction yard. The centerpiece had been his bong.
He had real bookshelves now, instead of milk crates. And instead of Ohio Players album covers hanging on the walls, a real painting over the sofa.
It was a beautiful painting. She went across the room for a closer look.
The painting was a landscape of a dirt road somewhere in the country. The road was bordered on each side by a split-rail fence. The road extended away, and disappeared around a bend beyond a stand of trees. The way the artist used sunlight beyond the bend made her feel as if something good lay just ahead, just out of sight.
The beautiful work was a powerful piece. It made her feel good. She wanted to be on this road, walking toward that light.
Behind her Evan said, “It’s called Hope.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Evan came into the living room and stood close to her. She felt a little sadness that he didn’t touch her, or kiss her.
Looking at the painting he said, “I actually met the artist.”
“At this gallery in Asbury Park. His name is Duncan Gray. His wife owns the gallery.”
She listened, but her attention was on other things. It was the weekend, so this morning Evan wore shorts and a tee shirt. She could tell by the new definition in his arms – by the bulge of his biceps and triceps that he’d been working out.
Her body quivered for him.
“Gray is an interesting guy,” he said. “It seemed to me that there was a lot more to him than meets the eye.”
She stole a glance at his thighs. Yep, he’d definitely been hitting the gym. The lights were out in the bedroom when they’d undressed, so she’d missed getting a good show.
“We exchanged cards,” Evan said. “His wife invited me to dinner, but I haven’t gotten around to calling.” He looked at her. “You’re more into art than me. Would you want to have dinner with them?”
“Are you asking me on a date?”
He frowned and sniffed, and then she remembered. “Oh damn, the bacon!” she said, and dashed to the kitchen.
Evan hadn’t meant it to sound like he was asking her out. He’d asked her because she enjoyed art, and really seemed to like the painting. He’d asked her out of habit. He used to enjoy doing things that made her happy.
Having sex with Freda last night had been weird, but not as bad as he’d imagined in two years of asking himself “What if?” There hadn’t been any rush of emotions, no painful reminder of what he’d lost. It was just sex with someone he knew, and knew very well. It was intimacy with someone for whom he felt affection, in spite of everything. But the hurt wasn’t there. That meant the love wasn’t there anymore. He’d done a good job of turning his feelings off and moving on. He was relieved about that.
So now what?
His phone rang. It was their daughter Faith.
“Daddy, I’ve been calling Mom all night and she’s not answering her phone or her cell. I just left the house and she’s not there!”
“Whoa, slow down baby. She’s over here.”
“Huh? She’s at your…heyyyyy…”
“She spent the night?”
He could hear the smile in his daughter’s voice. “She stopped by for dinner.”
“And she spent the night?”
“That’s none of your business.” He headed for the kitchen.
Faith laughed. “What did you do to my mommy, player?”
Freda was searching through the cabinets when he entered the kitchen. “Where do you hide your dishes?” she asked.
Evan held the phone out to her. “I’ll get the plates,” he said. “Here, talk to your daughter.”
Freda took the phone and said, “Hi honey.”
“Is it still good?” Faith asked.
Freda fought to hold back her smile. “Faith, I’m not having this discussion with you.”
“Come on Mom, you can tell me. Did Daddy knock the bottom out of it?”
“I’m getting off the phone with you now.”
“Do me a favor, okay?”
“The next time you plan on staying out all night to get laid, let a sister know, okay? I was worried about you.”
They ate breakfast mostly in silence.
Freda was thinking that this could be the beginning of something nice…a new phase in their relationship. This might actually work. She could do with a session like this a few times a month.
She smiled at Evan.
Evan smiled back at Freda.
He was thinking that he was right yesterday. He could fuck anybody, and that would be just fine. But with Freda, just fine wasn’t good enough, because it wasn’t as good as what they used to have. This wasn’t going to work. They couldn’t keep having sessions like this.
(To be continued…)
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Ten Years Ago
“Do you love me?” Andrea gasped.
Brandon wiped his sweat from her cheek with his fingertips, and then wiped his brow with his forearm. He kissed her softly, just once, even though he couldn’t get enough of kissing her. He never could. Then he said, “Yes.”
“You know I love you too, don’t you?”
He rolled off her and onto his back, and then turned his face away from her. He gazed at the rain coming down outside his apartment window.
He felt her moving. He adjusted his vision, and in the window’s reflection saw her sitting up and looking down at him. “Yes?”
“You know I love you…right?” she asked again.
“Of course seriously.”
“I think you love me in a way, but not really.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that I think you love me as your friend. But I think you’re more in love with the idea that I love you. It means that I’m that comfortable, reliable dude for you. You can count on me to love you and always be here for you. But the one you really love is Travis. You’re only here with me because I give you what you can’t get from him, and I don’t just mean sex.”
“Brandon, I’m here because you’re my friend – my best friend – and I love you. I wouldn’t use you like that.”
“You’re marrying Travis.”
“I told him that I’d consider it, depending on how he acts. But that’s all. I’m not with him, not like this, not anymore. We haven’t slept together since we broke up.”
Brandon knew she hadn’t slept with Travis. He knew because he and Andrea were best friends and told each other everything. That’s why he knew that Travis had been pulling out all the stops lately to get Andrea to take his sorry, cheating ass back.
He said, “Did you ever consider that that’s why he proposed to you – because after four months apart he finally got it into his head that you were through with him? He knows the only way to get you back is to unleash the big weapon: A marriage proposal.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Because you don’t want to think so, Andrea. You’re in love with him – in real love. He excites you.”
She touched him, traced her fingertip down the center of his chest, over his stomach and lower. “You excite me.”
“That’s not what I mean. He excites your heart. I’m just the easy, convenient one, but that doesn’t excite you. See, you have to chase Travis’ affection. You have to wonder where he is when he doesn’t call, or when he doesn’t return your calls. He keeps himself just beyond your reach because he really doesn’t give a fuck. But that’s what excites you. See, you know you’re hot Andrea. You know you could have any man you want. But that’s boring for you. But a stuck up player like Travis, an asshole that you know will fuck you over? That’s a challenge that gets your juices flowing.”
“That’s cruel of you to say, Brandon.”
Now he turned his head to look at her. “But am I lying?”
“I thought we were friends.”
“We’re best friends. That’s why I’m not going to bullshit you and tell you what you want to hear to make you feel better about this.”
Andrea lay back down, resting her head on his shoulder. She sighed and said, “We’re so good together. This…everything. It’s never been with anyone the way it is with you.”
But it’s not enough for you, Brandon thought. He needed to say what had to be said, even though he desperately didn’t want to. He didn’t want to lose Andrea, whatever it was he had of her. But he couldn’t keep going on like this. There were some things that weren’t enough for him either, and it hurt too much not to have more.
He said, “Since you’re working on possibly getting married, we probably shouldn’t do this anymore.”
“I don’t want that. I don’t know yet that I’m going to marry him.”
Brandon didn’t think that Andrea would marry Travis. The dude was going to cheat on her again, if he’d ever stopped in the first place.
Brandon knew dudes like Travis – assholes who thought that they were God’s gift to women. Travis hadn’t believed Andrea would dump him because women never dumped him, no matter how badly he fucked them over. When it came to playing women, he could lie and make promises like a politician. Most women believed the lies not because they were fooled, but because they wanted to believe them.
Andrea was probably the first woman to actually walk away from Travis and not come back. After four months apart he finally realized that she might be serious about the breakup. So he’d played his ace card and said he was a changed man and proposed. And Andrea fell for it.
Brandon met Andrea a month before she broke up with Travis, at an investment seminar. She made it clear from the beginning that she was in a relationship and didn’t play around. Two weeks later, after catching Travis in bed with one of his coworkers, she wasn’t in a relationship anymore.
Their friendship grew fast and hard after, because they had so much in common. They felt a connection to each other, a bond that made being together feel natural and right. Intimacy followed, and it confirmed that the connection they felt was real.
Two months after they first laid eyes on each other they were as close as two friends could be. Andrea had a capacity to love unlike any Brandon had ever seen, and a passion to match. He was beginning to see a potential for something real and permanent between them.
For him, Andrea was everything he’d ever thought he could want in a woman: Intelligent, passionate and compassionate, and beautiful. He’d liked the way things had happened with them. They were friends first, and then friends with very sweet benefits. Their future looked nice.
She told him about Travis, the dude she’d been involved with. She told him how he used to be a player, but then they got involved. Based on the things Andrea had told him about Travis, Brandon thought she’d been kidding herself about his fidelity from the very beginning. She chose to believe he was faithful to her because that’s what her heart wanted to believe. And, it excited her that Travis wasn’t always running after her the way dudes had since her chest and ass first popped out. Travis had kept himself just beyond her reach, which made him all the more enticing. And then she caught him red-handed cheating and broke up with him.
Travis had been trying to get her back for months. Andrea told him that Travis got really pissed when she told him that they were friends, and friends with benefits. She didn’t tell him out of spite. She’d just been letting him know that she’d moved on with her life. So Travis pulled out the big guns and proposed to her. And Andrea had fallen for it, whether she wanted to admit it or not.
To Brandon, the fact that Andrea would even consider marrying Travis meant that his own feelings for her went a lot deeper than hers did for him. For him, they were friends with a possible future. For Andrea, they’d just been friends with benefits, something to do until something real came along.
He couldn’t blame her totally. They hadn’t talked about having a real relationship or commitment. But that still didn’t soothe the disappointment he felt.
They didn’t sleep together again after that rainy afternoon. They stayed in touch, though the frequency of their contact dwindled over time.
Andrea didn’t marry Travis, because he didn’t really change his ways. Those types never do. Their relationship was off and on for another three years, until one of Travis’ other women showed up at Andrea’s job wanting to fight her. Then she finally had to accept the heartbreaking reality of what Travis was and would always be.
Brandon had felt bad for Andrea as she’d shared the news with him through her tears. But there was nothing he could do for her but sympathize and wish her well.
He was out of the friends with benefits business. After Andrea, where women were concerned, they were either going to be friends or fucking, but not both. That was his plan.
His plan was so simple in concept. It just hadn’t worked in reality. Sometimes it was him who’d want to take things past friendship with a woman. Sometimes it was the woman. But always, the pot of friendship boiled over into something else, or the friendship ended because it threatened to. In the ten years since he’d met Andrea, Brandon had never met a woman with whom a real friendship could simmer at just the right temperature.
It wasn’t a critical issue in his life, but it was a curiosity. He’d thought that one day, if he had the money and the time, he might try to find out if having a truly platonic friendship with a member of the opposite sex was even possible.
Rumson, New Jersey
Brandon opened the door to find Terri standing there smiling and holding a gift wrapped box. He said, “Okay, I thought we agreed to no gifts.”
Terri said, “Yeah well, I just happened to see this thing lying on the side of the road, and I figured, why not?”
“Yeah, right,” Brandon smiled. “Well, I guess we’re both frauds because I got you something, too.” He stepped aside so she could come in.
This is going to be interesting, he thought. Lisa was one of those women for whom every other woman was competition, and therefore the enemy. It wouldn’t matter if the other woman was her own mother. So she was going to piss nails when she got a look at Terri, because even though Terri was dressed like she was going hiking she still looked hot.
Terri put his gift under the tree. He picked up her gift and handed it to her.
“What is it?” she smiled.
“You’ll have to wait for Santa to come on Christmas to find that out,” he said.
From the den entry Lisa said, “So where’s my gift?”
They looked around. Lisa spoke to Brandon but smiled at Terri as she said, “I mean, I’d think you’d get me a gift too, since I already gave you yours.” Then she grasped her towel and pulled it open.
Brandon had played racquetball with Terri so he knew she was fast. But he’d never seen her move across a court as fast as she shot across his den.
She hit Lisa with a right cross so hard that Lisa flew one way and her towel flew another.
Brandon ran across the den to grab Terri, but she was already done. She backed away from Lisa, who lay sprawled on the carpet, clutching her face and moaning.
Terri looked up at him. Then she shoved the gift he’d bought her into his chest and left without speaking a word.
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
The Office of Dr. Freda Michaels
“I thought we were making progress,” Freda said.
“We are. This isn’t the same thing.”
“Brandon, a young lady assaulted another woman. She broke her nose.”
“Yes well, Lisa can bring that out in women. She’s one of those competitive types. You know, so every other woman is her enemy. That’s why she provoked Jewel.”
“How did she provoke her?”
“Well, when Jewel came in with her gift, we went to the den and put it under the tree. Then I gave Jewel her gift. That’s when Lisa came in from the kitchen. She saw us and said to me, ‘So where’s my gift?’ and then she said, ‘I already gave you yours,’ and opened the towel.”
“She was wearing …she had the towel from her bath wrapped around her.”
“So Jewel hit her in the face. I couldn’t stop her; she was so quick. I guess because she has military training.”
“And you think this incident is Lisa’s fault?”
“Like I said, that’s how Lisa is. She just picked the wrong female to push buttons with this time.”
Freda jotted down a few notes, and then said, “Brandon, do you see what’s going on here? The pattern is still holding. Do you see that?”
“Freda, this isn’t the same thing, not this time.”
“Why isn’t it?”
“Because this was a business deal. I paid Jewel, so it was strictly business. She’s a professional. People in her line of work are supposed to be emotionally detached.”
“People can’t detach their hearts.”
“Come on, Freda. You’re a doctor. You know the heart is just a muscle that pumps blood. We can control who we like and don’t like, and who we have feelings for. If Te…if Jewel was having feelings, that’s her fault. It’s not what I paid her for.”
“You paid her to be your friend.”
“When she was on the clock, yes.”
“Was she on the clock when she bought you the gift, and when she brought it to your house?”
“I didn’t ask her to do that.”
“You said you bought her a gift, too. Where she on the clock then?”
“Well…it was like buying a gift for a coworker. It wasn’t personal.”
“What did you get?”
“Jewel’s gift. What did you buy her?”
“Do you give your other coworkers diamonds as gifts?”
“Look Freda, I know what you’re getting at, okay? But that’s not how it is.”
Freda wrote down more notes, and then looked back up at him. “When’s the last time you were in contact with Andrea?”
“What? Look, I said this isn’t about that, okay? That’s why I paid this time. It’s not my fault that Jewel wasn’t professional enough to do her job.”
“As I recall, you last said that you spoke to Andrea during the summer. Have you spoken since then?”
Brandon folded his hands on his lap. He looked away from Freda, toward the office window.
“She called a few times, and sent some text messages.”
“And I didn’t answer.”
“Why didn’t you answer?”
“That’s behind me. She’s behind me. I don’t have anything to talk to her about.”
“She’s your friend.”
“Don’t you think she might be worried about you?”
Brandon spit out a short laugh. “I doubt it.”
“Brandon, do you see what you’re doing here? You’re repeating the same pattern. You’re making each new woman you meet pay for what you feel Andrea did to you. Even Lisa. Lisa may be who she is, but to you she’s even less. She’s just someone you use because she makes herself available in that way. But you don’t really want her. You use her. You hold back your emotions as you use her body. You punish her that way for the hurt you suffered ten years ago. And with Jewel, you inflict punishment as well. You hold back emotions, and intimacy. Yes, you pay her for a platonic friendship, but you know that people don’t work like that. But you tell yourself that it’s not your fault because you paid her not to feel.”
“Freda, I hear what you’re saying, but you’re wrong. She fucks for money all the time and feels nothing for her customers. So how is it my fault when I paid her for her time but not her body?”
“You paid her to be your friend, Brandon. You didn’t pay her to not be human.”
“Is my time up yet?”
“We have fifteen minutes.”
“Brandon, you can’t keep running.”
“I’m not…running from what?”
“From your hurt.”
“I’m past that. It’s been ten years.”
“You can’t talk to Andrea. You used to at least talk to her.”
“There’s nothing to say.”
“You could tell her how you feel; how you felt then.”
“I’ve told you before, many times, Freda. It’s not her issue. She didn’t lead me on. She was always up front with me, just like I was up front with Jewel.”
“And yet you hurt, and you hurt Jewel because you don’t know how to deal with your pain.”
“Freda, I don’t care what you say. This isn’t my fault. I paid Terri.”
“Is that her real name?”
“What? Oh, right. Yeah.”
“Is it easier for you to think of her as Jewel? Does that make your relationship less personal?”
“So what happened after the altercation?”
“She left. She just looked at me…she had this funny look on her face…and then she left. Then I took Lisa to the hospital.”
“Have you spoken to her since?”
“Lisa or Terri?”
“No. I called the agency, just to see how she was doing. But they said she wasn’t available. They said if I wanted to meet with one of the other…um…you know.”
“No. I’m done with that. The experiment failed.”
Freda stared at Brandon for a long moment without speaking.
“What?” he asked.
“Do you know where Terri lives?”
“Do you have her personal phone number?”
“So if you wanted to contact her, you could.”
“Freda, did you ever see Pretty Woman?”
“The movie? Yes.”
“Complete and total bullshit, wasn’t it?”
“I suppose it was an unrealistic portrayal of that lifestyle.”
“Ever hear of a movie called Whore?”
“It was directed by Ken Russell. Starred Teresa Russell. They made it in response to Pretty Woman. They said that Pretty Woman gave little girls the wrong idea by romanticizing prostitution. So in their movie she got beaten, robbed, abused, brutalized – the things that really happen to women in that profession. Is my time up yet?”
“We have ten minutes. So why do you bring up those movies?”
“Because this is real life, Freda, not some movie fantasy. Terri is a nice young lady, but she’s not someone I’d want to be involved with. I couldn’t be with someone who lived that life, who sold her body for money.”
“So you brutalized Terri in your own way. You brutalized her emotions as payback for what you feel Andrea did to you.”
“I told you, Andrea didn’t do anything to me. It was my fault for getting caught up and wanting our friendship to be more than it was. And it was Terri’s fault if she forgot that she was working.”
“All right, Brandon. Our session is over.”
“That was ten minutes already?”
“Now would be a good time to stop.”
“Are you okay Freda? You look upset.”
“I…I’m fine. I’ll see you next week.” She stood up to emphasize that the session was over.
Freda walked Brandon to her office exit. He stepped out, and then turned back to her. He smiled and said, “You know Freda, if I didn’t know you better, I’d think that for a moment there you lost your professionalism, too.”
Freda closed the door in his face.
She went to her desk and dialed a number, and when the receptionist picked up said, “Good afternoon. This is Doctor Michaels for Doctor Leonard.”
After a moment he picked up. “Freda, how are you?”
“I’m fine David. How are you?”
“I’m well, thanks. What can I do for you?”
“Do you have a slot available for a new patient – one hour a week?”
“Well, I suppose. You’re that booked up? Must be nice.”
“Actually, he’s my patient. It’s been ten years, but I’m not making any real progress. Lately he’s had something of a relapse. And I think it might be better for him to talk to a man.”
“Hold on – is this Freda I can do anything a man can do Michaels?”
“That’s not funny, David.”
“So what’s the story on this guy? Why aren’t things working out?”
“Let’s just say that I don’t like him very much, and I think that I won’t be able to provide him fair and unbiased treatment in the future.”
“I see. Well, all right. Send his information over.”
“Thank you David. If there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know.”
“Well, if Evan wasn’t one of my closest friends I’d ask you out to dinner.”
“Goodbye, David. And thanks again.”
After that call Freda buzzed her receptionist. “Gloria, send Brandon Phillip’s file to Dr. Leonard’s office. And my new patient – Terri Edwards – put her in his slot.”
© October 2010
Author’s Note: A few years ago my editor challenged me. She said that most of my male characters were nice guys. She challenged me to step out of the box every now and then and create a character that wasn’t so likeable. So every now and then I remind myself to try to step out of the box. I thought I’d combine the question of whether or not a man and woman can really be platonic friends with a character that wasn’t necessarily likeable. Hopefully, it worked.
The original story ended here. If you’d like to read more about what happens with Brandon and Terri, comment “Yes.”
Rumson, New Jersey
Terri made herself swallow her bitterness as she slowed the BMW to a stop in the brick driveway of the residence. She always wanted to get mad when she came to a nice place like this, because it wasn’t fair.
Her mother should have lived in a nice house like this one. She shouldn’t have died alone in that rat trap apartment in Jersey City with nothing but roaches for company. A woman who gave so much love should have had the best things life had to offer. She should have lived in a nice house like this one.
If only you’d listened to me, Mama.
She could have gotten her mother out of that disgusting apartment, because in the end she’d been sick enough for the Army to qualify her as a military dependant. Base housing on Fort Bragg wasn’t fancy like this place, but it would have been a step up from that hole her mother had lived in – that they both used to live in. But Mama had been so stubborn. She didn’t want to leave New Jersey. And she’d said that the day she got so low that her daughter had to take care of her was the day she didn’t need to live anymore.
Damn it, Mama.
Terri choked down her bitterness and her hurt and checked herself in the Beemer’s visor mirror. She freshened up her lip gloss, snapped on a sultry, sexy smile that she didn’t feel and slid out of the car.
All right, time to go get paid.
As she stepped to the front door of the fancy house Terri smoothed down her backless little black dress and added a little sway to her stride. The owner might not be watching her out here, but you never knew. That’s why she’d rolled up in an agency BMW instead of her Ford Focus. It was all about illusion.
Brandon checked himself in the hall mirror on his way to answer the door. For the third time that afternoon he wondered if he should have shaved off his new goatee, because it hadn’t grown long enough yet to be much more than stubble.
Okay man, it’s not that serious.
When he opened the door and saw the young lady standing there he wondered if not only should he have shaved, but if he should’ve worn a suit instead of a pullover and jeans.
She was gorgeous, absolutely stunning; a milk chocolate vision in a black dress and heels. She looked like she ought to be walking the red carpet at some Hollywood premiere as cameras flashed because everyone wanted to capture and preserve her exotic Nubian beauty.
Her hair was pulled up to highlight her slender neck and beautiful features; her dark, doe eyes, high cheekbones and full, sensuous mouth. Right now that sexy mouth was smiling at him.
“You’re Jewel?” he asked. Damn man, who else would she be?
“And you must be Brandon,” she smiled.
Brandon stepped aside and said, “Please, come on in.”
Okay, she hadn’t expected the client to be a brother. And she definitely didn’t expect a man so fine. As Terri followed the hot hunk of chocolate into his house she wondered why a man who looked like him and who lived in a place like this needed to call a service. He had to have women beating down his door and climbing up the walls of his crib like cat burglars trying to find a way into his life. She wondered if he might be one of those guys too busy making money to have time for a social life. They did get clients like that sometimes.
He led her into a spacious but cozy sunken den with a fireplace and ceiling high windows overlooking a flagstone patio.
The space had a definite masculine vibe to it. Terri figured that if a woman had ever lived here, she was long gone.
“Have a seat, please,” he said, indicating the leather sectional.
Terri sat. She crossed her legs to give him a better view of part of what he was paying fifteen hundred dollars for.
He sat down too, but at a respectful distance from her on the sofa. Some guys were hands on right away. Those were the type who had the attitude that if they paid for it, they didn’t need to waste time on niceties. They were the type who only saw her as a pussy and a mouth and a body they’d paid to use.
She kept her eyes and her professional smile on Brandon. That was part of the illusion too, to make the client think that he or she was so appealing that she couldn’t keep her eyes off them. That wasn’t a problem with this brother. It would have been harder for her to not look at him.
He leaned forward and placed his forearms on his knees. His sleeves were pushed up, exposing his hairy forearms. She liked hairy arms. Sexy. He wore a simple leather banded watch on his wrist. It wasn’t fancy and flashy by appearance, but Terri bet the timepiece cost some serious money.
He clasped his hands together and looked at her.
Was he nervous? How cute. Maybe he was one of those guys who needed a little push to get things started.
Terri was about to go into her standard fake flirt when he cleared his throat and said, “So Jewel, how does this normally work?”
The money was already paid, direct to the agency, so they didn’t need to talk about that. But since he’d asked the question, Terri knew she needed to get one thing out of the way first.
Still smiling she said, “Brandon, are you a member of a law enforcement agency in any capacity?”
For a moment he looked surprised. Then he smiled. White teeth. Sexy lips, framed by a mustache and a shadow of chin hair that made him look kind of rugged. Damn boy, why do you need to pay? Please don’t be a cop.
He said, “No, I sell money for a living.”
“Yes. But my father was a police detective. I hope that won’t count against me.”
“Not unless he’s hiding in the closet.”
“We’re all alone, Jewel.”
The way he was looking at her with his sexy eyes when he said that made Terri wonder again why the hell this man had to pay for it. She said, “Well then, to answer your question Brandon, your fee covers our night together. I’m yours until morning, for whatever you desire. The exclusions are anal penetration and any rough stuff.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?” he smiled.
Okay, he was trying to be clever. “It depends on the perspective of those involved. But we won’t be finding out tonight.”
“Duly noted. Oh, forgive my manners, Jewel. Can I get you anything – maybe a glass of wine?”
“If you’re having one.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Terri checked him out and assessed his vitals from the rear as he walked out of the den. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties, maybe forty. About five-ten. Nice body, on the slender side but fit. He was dressed casually but tastefully in a V-neck cashmere pullover over pressed Levis and Rockport loafers. He dressed like he had money but didn’t need to show it off; like he didn’t need to use bling as a personal billboard; like he rode and died on who he was, not on what he could buy. A truly self-confident brother was sexy, too.
Terri thought that tonight might be kind of fun. When they got into it she could pretend that she wasn’t working, but that she was with somebody she wanted to be with, doing it because they cared about each other and wanted each other.
She was good at illusions.
She was frowning at him. Even when she frowned she was fine.
“Okay, so let me get this straight, Brandon – you don’t want to do anything?” she asked.
Brandon was a little surprised that Jewel was surprised. He’d figured that there were probably some people who just paid for time, not touch. He said, “Going out to dinner is doing something.”
“Right, but I mean after. You paid for the entire night.”
She really looked cute all frowned up. He couldn’t help smiling at her cuteness. “Well, I thought we might come back here after, maybe hang out, talk…”
She was looking at him like he’d just stepped out of a spaceship and had green skin. Brandon thought he’d better explain himself.
“Okay Jewel, it’s like this: I don’t have a problem dating. I meet ladies. We do things, if you know what I mean. But I don’t really know any ladies.”
“How are you dating if you don’t know them?”
“What I mean is that I know plenty of women, but I don’t know any who are just friends. I know the women I date, but that’s about dating and all that entails. I have female business associates, but I only know them because we’re trying to get paid. We have no association outside the office, so they’re not really friends. But I don’t have a single woman in my life who I just know, who is just a friend to me. I never have. Even when I’ve met someone who seems like she’ll be nice to know, one of us eventually wants to take it to another place, either emotionally, physically, or both. It makes me wonder if it’s even possible for a man and woman to be platonic friends.”
“So you’re paying for me to be your friend tonight.”
“When you say it like that it sounds desperate. I’m not desperate for friendship, Jewel, or female companionship. I just wonder what it’s like to have a lady for a friend and that be all it is.”
He watched as she studied him for a long moment. Then she took a sip of wine. And then she said, “You know, if you weren’t paying, I’d tell you that you were full of it. I’d have no doubt that you were trying to get over by playing nice.”
“I am nice,” he said. “I think I’m a nice guy to know, even if I have to pay to prove it.”
He took her to dinner at a nice restaurant down in Avon-by-the-Sea. As they dined Terri asked him the standard questions about himself. They were the questions she’d normally ask a client to pretend she cared, or if things were going slowly, or if a customer wanted to talk first. But this time she was actually curious about who Brandon was.
When he told her where he was from she chided, “I didn’t know people actually lived in Delaware. So when you left the state did you close the door and lock up?”
“Oh, is that supposed to be funny? Now I’m really hurt.”
He dabbed his napkin at his eye as if he was crying. He looked totally silly with his face all scrunched up, and a laugh burst from her mouth before she could stop herself. People at nearby tables cut glances their way.
Okay, she didn’t usually break character when she was working, but he’d caught her off guard with that fake crying act – a grown man with his face all scrunched up like a little boy. “Is this how you get when one of your stocks starts to lose value?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s much worse then. When a stock drops my office is like a day care center with all the tears and runny noses. But hey, so far you’ve asked me a bunch of questions about myself, but what about you? Where are you from?”
Ordinarily she’d make up something about her background for a client. One reason was to protect her privacy. But also, most men liked hearing that she was from a small town somewhere, and that she had no real life experience until she got into the business. They liked to feel that they were worldlier than she was, and therefore smarter…and therefore superior. Since she’d spent time in Fayetteville, North Carolina when she was in the Army, she usually used that as her fictional home town. “I’m from Jersey City,” she said.
Okay, she was just playing friends with Brandon. It didn’t really matter if she told him where she was from.
“You don’t look like someone I’d picture being in the Army,” Brandon said.
He was driving her back up the shore after dinner. He thought he’d take her to a cocktail lounge in Long Branch called Off Broadway before going back to the house. That would extend their evening a little, since he didn’t imagine that Jewel would be staying all night. A new female friend wouldn’t be spending the night.
“I don’t know; I always pictured military women as being kind of um…ruff around the edges.”
“You mean butch?”
“Well, I always pictured Wall Street types as white men with no social life and high blood pressure who got rich and died of heart attacks at fifty.”
Brandon looked over at her as he pulled into the parking lot at Off Broadway. “No you didn’t. You’re just saying that because I said I didn’t know that a woman in the Army could be as beautiful as you are.”
Okay, how was she supposed to come back from that – argue that she wasn’t beautiful? Terri clicked her tongue and tried not to smile and said, “Whatever.”
She watched Brandon as he slid out of the driver’s seat of his CL63 AMG and walked around to her door. He’d already thrown her off her game by being so chill, acting like they were just hanging out. She had to remind herself that no matter how he acted, this was still work. And just because he’d said that he wanted to play some kind of friend game, it didn’t mean that as the night wore on he wouldn’t become just another man wanting to get some.
She liked the idea of getting paid while keeping her clothes on. Still, as Brandon opened her door, took her hand and helped her out of the car she wondered would it might be like to experience the total package.
The club was nice, an intimate little place playing jazz at a volume low enough for them to enjoy it while still being able to talk without raising their voices. They sipped wine and talked more. Terri was shocked at herself that she told Brandon so much about her real life. But he had a laid back personality and a sense of humor that put her at ease. She didn’t feel like he was some horny customer, or that he was looking down his nose at her. He acted like what he said he was paying for, like they were just a couple of friends enjoying a nice evening out.
She learned that he went to Monmouth University here in Long Branch and liked the area, so he stayed after graduating. He did as much work from home as in the city. He liked playing racquetball.
“I like playing too,” Terri said. “But I haven’t since I was in the Army.”
“Well hey, if you want to play sometime, I usually go to my club on Saturdays. We can go tomorrow if – if you’re not busy.”
“You mean if I’m not working?”
“Your time is up at nine o’clock, Brandon.”
“Oh, okay…right. I understand.”
Terri actually thought it would be fun to play racquetball again. She missed that. But she wanted to keep this about business, even if she was having a nice time.
Brandon said, “So what if I want to play racquetball next Saturday, instead of going out at night?”
“You’ll have to call to schedule that.”
“You can’t pick your own dates?”
“I work through the agency. They screen new clients and set things up.”
“But now I’m not a new client.”
“Still, everything is through the agency. You have to pay them and they schedule.”
Okay, this was weird. Clients often wanted to see her again, but it definitely was never about wanting to play racquetball. She really did want to play. But this was business, and she wanted to get paid, too. She said, “But if you let me know when you want to see me again I can let the office know to leave that time open.”
“All right, I’ll do that then,” he said. “So let’s plan for next Saturday morning, say ten?”
“Okay.” I’m going to get paid to play racquetball. Damn.
“So why did you join the Army?” he asked.
Okay, here was another personal question. She’d never been asked about her Army experience by a customer because they never knew about it. But she’d opened that door with Brandon, so she didn’t see any point in lying now. “I wanted to get out of Jersey City; find something better to do with my life.”
Okay, that was enough. Terri had no intention of telling Brandon that she joined the military out of high school because she wanted to escape the inner city environment she’d grown up in. It wasn’t his business to know that she’d wanted to find a place in this world where she and her mother could live a decent life and just be happy. And she had no intention of telling him that after her mother passed away, for a while she’d lost the ambition to want to do anything.
In her last year in the Army after her mother died she’d just gone through the motions of being a soldier, biding her time until her four-year enlistment was up. She got out two years ago and came back home to New Jersey, and to nothing. Even with her military experience, finding a job was tough. The country was in the beginning of the recession and more people were losing jobs than were being hired. She’d ended up working as a clerk in a ladies clothing boutique in Newark, barely making enough to pay her bills and eat.
She been at the boutique for six months when one winter morning a gorgeous brunette who looked like a movie star who’d wandered across the bridge from Manhattan came in to look around. Terri had trailed the woman around the boutique, helping her with her selections. The woman was about her age, and Terri had had to swallow her envy as the cost of the goods the chick selected neared two thousand dollars. She kept her bitterness in check by mentally adding up the commission she’d get off the sale.
As the customer handed over her Gold Card at the register she’d said, “I’m sorry – you look so familiar. Do I know you?”
The chick did look familiar, but Terri couldn’t imagine that she could have been in the Army. She looked and carried herself like she was born filthy, stinking rich.
“I don’t know,” Terri said. “But you look familiar, too.”
“Wait, did you go to Ferris?”
“For a couple of years, yes.”
“Well that’s it then. I was on the cheerleading squad my junior and senior years. I’m Lindsay. Lindsay Buchannan.”
Terri remembered the face but didn’t know her. She hadn’t run with that crowd in school. She figured this Lindsay chick couldn’t have come from money if she went to Ferris High, but it sure looked like she was doing well now. Terri checked her finger but didn’t see a wedding ring.
“When did you graduate?” Lindsay asked.
“I escaped in ’05,” Lindsay smiled.
That’s right, she’d thought, rub it in. A year younger than me and doing ten times better.
“I was a blonde then,” Lindsay said. “But in my business there are too many blondes.” She touched her hair. “Thus, this color.”
“What business are you in?” Terri asked.
Instead of answering, Lindsay handed her a business card, looked at her nametag and said, “You’re beautiful, Terri. If you ever want to do something different and make a lot more money, give me a buzz. We’ll talk.”
Terri called Lindsay that night.
Two weeks later she had her first interview at the mansion in North Jersey with a woman named Marita. They did a background check on her more thorough than the one she’d gone through joining the Army. Then she was called back for a second interview with a lady named Michelle, who ran the house.
That was a year and a half ago. Now she made more money in a month than she’d made in the boutique and the Army combined; a lot more money, and for a lot less work. Rare were the times when she had more than three customers in a week, unless she wanted to. She never wanted to.
Terri woke up just after sunrise in one of Brandon’s guest bedrooms. It was a weird feeling. She was working, but she woke up feeling clean, pure. It almost didn’t feel real.
She sat up and looked toward the closed bedroom door. It was still locked. If Brandon had tried to get in last night she’d slept through it. But she didn’t think he had.
They’d come back to the house just after one in the morning. He acted ill at ease, like he didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. He’d been so cute as he stumbled over his offer to her to sleep over if she was too tired to drive.
She hadn’t been that tired because she’d slept most of the day getting ready for this appointment. But she hadn’t been anxious to leave, either. He was a nice guy. It had been kind of nice just hanging with a man with no expectations between them.
The nightstand clock said that it was almost seven. She was thirsty, so she decided to run down and get some water and then take a shower and go home.
Terri slipped out of bed and into the robe he’d given her last night. It was one of his, and it swallowed her up. The thick cotton and velour felt nice rubbing against her skin as she padded to the door.
She eased the door open and peeked out. She didn’t see or hear any signs of life. Walking quietly so as not to disturb him, she crept downstairs and found the kitchen.
Brandon was already in the kitchen, sipping coffee and reading the paper. He looked up, smiled at her and said, “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“I did, thanks. Good morning to you, too.”
For just an instant it struck Terri to wonder what it might be like to do this every day – to come downstairs to find her man in the kitchen sipping coffee and reading his paper. Before the question could turn into desire she pushed it out of her head.
She was good at illusions, but some were too dangerous to play with.
Rumson, New Jersey
Three Months Later
Terri got out of her Focus in Brandon’s driveway and headed for the front door. It was chilly out so she wore faded jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and Lady Tims. She carried a gift wrapped box in her arms – Brandon’s Christmas present. She hoped the shape of the box wouldn’t give away what it was – a new Head Black Jack racquetball racket.
She’d worked last night so she was tired. But she figured if she really started dragging she’d just crash on Brandon’s sofa or go up to one of the guest rooms and pass out for a while. She’d done it before.
Terri smiled to herself as she rang the doorbell. When Brandon opened his gift on Christmas she had a few jokes she could use about the racket manufacturer’s name: I got you some Head for Christmas, or Here’s some Head for you to play with. Maybe, Would you like your Head under the Christmas tree?
If he answered yes, she had no problem hooking the brother up, no charge. But she knew he wouldn’t say yes. In three months he hadn’t made a move on her, not even a little flirt. Terri admired Brandon for being a man true to his word. But it wouldn’t bother her a bit if he broke his damned word.
She was thinking about not having Brandon pay any more for their time together. She didn’t feel right letting him pay when she really enjoyed spending time with him. She liked having him as a friend, and his paying for them to hang out made their friendship feel fake. It wasn’t fake.
He was a cool guy. She liked him a lot.
That was no illusion.
“There’s nothing sexier than a man who can cook,” Lisa cooed. She was smiling across the breakfast nook table at him. Under the table she had her foot in his lap.
“It doesn’t take much to pour batter into a waffle iron,” Brandon said.
“Well, much of it is that you would even bother to try. That’s sexy.”
Brandon thought that Lisa had sex on the brain, because everything was sexy to her. She’d just started at his agency last month. They’d hit it off right away, but it had nothing to do with a relationship or liking each other as people. It was about fucking. He liked what he saw. Lisa liked what she saw. They weren’t trying to pretend it was about anything else.
They’d started out getting a hotel room for a lunchtime quickie and a longer after work session when he worked in the city. Last night was the first time she’d come to his house. From almost the minute she stepped into his foyer she’d had her clothes off.
This morning she was wrapped in a bath towel as they ate. That was convenient because when breakfast was over the fucking would begin again.
Brandon was trying to decide if he was going to fuck Lisa on the den sofa or on the kitchen floor when his doorbell chimed.
“Expecting someone?” she asked.
“No.” Brandon pried Lisa’s foot out of his crotch and pushed away from the table.
As he left the kitchen Lisa said, “You have five minutes to get rid of them. After that I’m coming out there…and this towel is staying in here.”
TO BE CONTINUED