Excerpt from WITH BENEFITS
Is sleeping with your best friend the best of both worlds or a disaster waiting to happen?
Long Branch, New Jersey Thursday Evening
Mavis threw a punch at him. Actually balled up her fist and threw a punch.
Kyle saw the blow coming and snapped his head to the side just quickly enough to avoid kissing her knuckles, but her fist clipped his ear and stung like hell. “Hey! What-the-are-you crazy?”
Mavis swung at him again, but this time he was ready. He grabbed her right wrist and stopped her punch in mid-flight. She made an awkward, flailing attempt at a left hook but he grabbed that wrist too, and held her arms up and immobilized between them. “Quit it!”
“You hit me, motherfucker!” Mavis growled between clenched teeth as she struggled without success to break free of his grasp.
“You walked into me!” Kyle shouted back.
“Uh-uh, no man puts his goddamn hands on me…”
She wriggled her arms harder, trying to escape his grip. It wasn’t happening. Mavis weighed more than him, but she was a woman and couldn’t out-strength him. He wasn’t going to let her go until she calmed down.
He hadn’t hit her. They’d been in the middle of yet another shouting, cursing argument—this time in the kitchen of his apartment—and he’d been gesturing to emphasize his point when she stepped to him and right into his pointed index finger. When his fingertip accidentally contacted her shoulder she reacted as if he’d slapped her—went all wide-eyed and slack-jawed—and then threw a punch at him.
Kyle kept his grasp on her wrists and his eyes on her legs in case she tried to knee him, then pushed forward, backing the woman-gone-crazy up until he had her trapped against the kitchen counter.
This is insane, he thought, too fucking crazy.
He couldn’t do this anymore. It had to end now; today.
He held Mavis’ wrists and let her struggle and curse at him until finally she’d exhausted herself. She stopped trying to break free and gasped, “Let me go, Kyle.”
“Are you done acting like you’re crazy?”
“You hit me.”
“I didn’t, and you know it. Now are you finished, Mavis? You know you can’t fight me; you can’t beat me. I don’t hit women, but I swear to God, if you—”
“Let me go.” She didn’t seem angry anymore. At least not as enraged as a minute ago.
As usual with Mavis, her rage exploded out of nowhere without warning, like a volcano erupting. The verbal lava of her fury would spew out in the form of insults and curses to scorch whoever had gotten under her skin due to some real but more likely imagined slight. Then when her rage was expelled, she’d return to calmness as if nothing had happened, while her victim was still scalded by the heat of her fury.
This time she’d gone off because he’d decided to trade in his eight-year-old Toyota for something new. He’d decided on a 200; a nice but practical ride. Mavis hadn’t agreed with his choice. That was fine; they didn’t have to agree, and anyway she had no say in the matter. They’d only been seeing each other for three months, and he was spending his money, not hers.
As was all too typical when disagreeing with Mavis, disagreement turned into debate, and debate turned into argument when she took the disagreement as a challenge, and then as a personal attack against her. And then the explosion happened, and she attacked.
Until this evening Mavis had only attacked with her mouth, using vicious insults and curses as her weapons. Until this evening Kyle had never known her to get physical. As he held her pinned against the kitchen counter he decided that it wouldn’t happen again, at least not with him.
The wildness in her eyes softened. Her feral snarl had vanished, replaced by her mouth quivering as if she were trying not to cry.
Kyle figured that if her evil ass was upset enough to cry it was because she’d just lost a battle, so to speak. He made himself not feel sorry for her.
He was done with her. Three months of this bullshit was long enough. He let her wrists go and backed away, out of range of her fists in case she tried to slug him again.
She didn’t. She crossed her arms defiantly over her voluptuous nightshirt-covered bosom and snapped, “So do you feel like a big man now?”
Damn it, she just wouldn’t quit.
“There’s nothing to feel big about,” he said. “All I did was stop you from busting me in the head. Now I’m stopping this relationship. You need to go, Mavis.”
Her eyes widened, showing her surprise, but she recovered quickly and shot back. “See, that’s your problem, Kyle; you can’t handle a strong woman.”
“You don’t know what a strong woman is. A strong woman doesn’t have to go psycho every time she thinks somebody is challenging her just to prove that she’s badder than every man and woman…” Why am I still arguing with her? “You know what? Fuck that; I’m done arguing with you. Leave, now.”
Mavis stared at him for a few long seconds as if trying to decide if he were serious, and if he were, how she could salvage some dignity. Apparently she decided that arguing against breaking up would be too demeaning, because she clicked her tongue and shoved her way past him, out of the kitchen.
Kyle watched the sway of her round hips and bottom in her nightshirt as she stormed down the hall on her way to the bedroom to get dressed. Though it was early evening, she’d put on the nightshirt as soon as she’d arrived because they’d planned to get some early sex because they both had to work in the morning. He told himself that he wasn’t going to miss her curvy, full-figured body and the sex, not with what he had to put up with to have them. The tradeoff wasn’t worth it.
Being involved with somebody was supposed to enhance your life and make it better, not add drama and stress to it.
He was tired of the drama and stress.
Kyle got up off his sofa and looked around his living room, frowning. Something felt different.
His first thought was that Mavis had taken something of his as her parting shot, a way to strike one last blow against him. But he couldn’t see anything missing.
And then he realized that something was missing.
With Mavis gone for good the dark clouds of tension that had hovered over him almost since the beginning of their relationship had dissipated, allowing relief to shine through. He and Mavis were finished, and so he didn’t have to juggle the need for feminine companionship with the anxiety of wondering what the next pointless argument was going to be about and how he might avoid it. And now that it was over and the stress relieved, he realized that the companionship and sex hadn’t been worth it. Yes, at forty years old Mavis was in her sexual prime and when she’d wanted it—which was often—she’d wanted it, and that was all good. But looking back, it seemed that just as often sex didn’t happen because she was pissed off about something.
Now that he was out from under the shadows of the clouds of their relationship and could see clearly, he knew that she hadn’t been worth the aggravation. Pussy wasn’t worth sacrificing his peace of mind.
So good riddance.
His ear still hurt. Mavis’ parting shot. He touched the sore spot and checked his finger. No blood. What the hell had he been thinking, getting involved with a woman ten years older than him who was as evil as a pit viper and wanted to run his life? How had he let the misery go on for three months?
He should have known that Mavis was trouble when on their first dinner date she almost bit the waitress’s head off because the girl brought her a glass of water that she hadn’t asked for. But he hadn’t been paying much attention to that. Instead on the night of their first date his focus had been on the way Mavis’ skirt laid on the twin-basketball cheeks of her ass, and the way her chest stretched out the front of her sweater, and her thick, sexy legs perched in heels that had to be four inches high.
And he remembered thinking how pretty she was with her flawless milk chocolate complexion, and that there was a girlishness about her that belied her age. But as time went on he saw less of that girlishness. Instead, more often than not her brow was creased with a frown, her eyes bore the hard glint of anger, and the lines around her mouth had nothing to do with smile-induced dimples. It seemed that she was always upset about something or somebody: the people on her job, her two teenage kids, her mother, the sun shining too brightly. It was always something with Mavis. It had gotten to the point that when they got together he would check her mood to make sure that she wouldn’t bite his head off for trying to give her a hello kiss. You don’t stick your hand in a viper’s nest.
As he sat down again Kyle wondered how long he would he have put up with that miserable relationship if she hadn’t tried to hit him. How long would he have been blinded by his desire for a woman in his bed? Before he could consider an answer to that question his house phone began ringing.
Kyle felt a spike of anxiety lance through his chest. Barely an hour had passed since Mavis had left and she was calling already, probably because she hadn’t been able to stand to leave things as they were. She always had to have the last word.
He reached for the phone determined not to argue with her, but also not to let her shout him down. If worse came to worse he’d just hang up on her, as immature an act as that might be. But when he grabbed the handset its display showed that the caller was Baron Harris, one of his crew from work.
“What’s up, B?”
“Hey man, I just wanted to yell at you real quick, unless you’re too busy playing with Ms. Lovely Thickness.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Say what? She’s not with you?”
“Well damn man, let me look out my window and make sure the world’s not coming to an end. I thought after work sex with her was your regular.”
“You can look all you want. I’m done with that.”
“Since a little while ago and our last straw argument.”
“Damn, you’re fighting again?”
“Yeah. I had to cut her loose, man. This time things got kind of physical.”
“Oh man, you didn’t –”
“No, not like that. We were arguing hot and heavy—again—and I accidentally poked her in her shoulder, and she tried to go Mike Tyson on me. So I got sick of the BS and told her we were done.”
“Damn, sorry bro.”
“I’m not. This might sound crazy, but I feel like some kind of pressure is off me, like I can breathe again.”
“I feel you Kyle man. From what you’ve said before, it seemed like you two were fighting more than fucking.”
“Yeah, I bet it was about equal.”
“So you’re cool?”
“I’m so relieved that I’m not even a little bit pissed. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, letting things go on for so long when they were so bad.”
“I’ll tell you why: That good older woman pussy had your mind befuddled, bro. She cougarized your ass.”
“Hey, don’t tell her I told you, but after the first time we met Mavis, Charlene told me it wasn’t going to last. She said the vibe between you two was off.”
Charlene Williams was the third member of their three-member IT crew at STC Technologies. Kyle was the supervisor of their team, but their relationship was more like three friends hanging out and playing with technology than that of supervisor and subordinates.
“I wish she’d told me,” Kyle laughed. “It would’ve saved me a lot of aggravation.”
“Would you have listened to her, I mean with Mavis’ big titties and hot, thick body all up in your face? And I tell you man, she had some legs on her; strong, like she could kick holes in brick walls. Damn! You sure you’re not gonna miss all that?”
“Nope.” In truth Kyle hadn’t seen much of Mavis naked. Even though he’d often told her that he was cool with her full figure, she’d been too self-conscious about her body to take all her clothes off around him. The most she would do was wear nothing but a loose tee-shirt so that she could show off her ass. He hadn’t tried to push to convince her to get naked because that would have led to yet another argument. “I’m not going to miss jack. If you’d been in my shoes you’d understand.”
“Yeah well, it’s all good, I guess. Maybe now you’ll quit coming to work frowning like you’re pissed off at the world.”
“I bet Mavis’ problem was that she wanted herself a young thug, and she figured since you’re a thirty-year-old black man, you’d fit the bill. But you’re too nice to females, man, so she probably wasn’t feeling that. So she tried to push your buttons, you know, to bring out the thug in you. Women do that kind of shit.”
“Or maybe she’s just an evil bitch.”
Baron laughed, “Okay, or maybe that. Damn Kyle, she must’ve really gotten under your skin if you’re calling her a bitch. That’s not your style, bro. Yeah see, and that’s what you should be looking for next time: a nice girl who matches up with you.”
“Just a babe you match personalities with; laid back, nice, somebody who likes watching all those corny old movies you like, things like that. But I don’t know where you’re gonna find her unless you go up in the Ozarks somewhere and find some babe who’s never seen cable TV and thinks getting wild is putting on shoes when she dances to banjo music. Yeah, that’s what you need man—a backwoods hillbilly babe.”
“You know what, Baron? Fuck you.”
“Anyway man, the reason I’m calling is because Charlene wants to switch shifts with me for the New World upgrades tomorrow. That cool?”
Kyle and his IT team at STC Technologies had been tasked to upgrade the operating systems and memory for the computers at New World Laboratories in Holmdel. STC and New World Labs were sister companies, subsidiaries of St. Christopher Enterprises, the conglomerate founded and owned by billionaire Julian St. Christopher. New World had had its own IT staff, but they’d all just been fired. Rumor had it that they’d been trying to hack into the work files of some New World scientists who were working on some special secret project. So Kyle and his team were going over to install a new, modified, secure operating system on New World’s servers and workstations, and install enough additional memory to run it.
Based on the number of machines at New World, Kyle expected the upgrade job to take two or three days to complete. The original plan had been for him to take the morning shift over there starting tomorrow: Friday. He’d get a feel for the place while most of the New World employees were at work, and then switch off with Charlene at lunchtime. On Saturday he’d planned to work the morning shift and switch off with Baron, and hopefully they’d be done before their entire weekend was shot. Now Charlene wanted to switch days with Baron.
“Yeah, that’s cool,” Kyle said.
“So I’ll be over there at one, one-thirty, right after lunch,” Baron said. “Where will we meet up?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been inside, but it’s a pretty big place. Give me a call when you get there and we’ll hook up.”
“Should be a pretty smooth job, huh?”
“That’s what I’m thinking.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably be bored to death hanging around a bunch of scientists who’re bigger eggheads than us.”
“Right,” Kyle said. “That’s why I’m having us share the pain by splitting days. I’m expecting nothing over there but boring.”
Tinton Falls, New Jersey Thursday Night
“My god you’re gorgeous,” Matt gasped, then kissed the tip of her nose, rolled off her and onto his back on her bed.
“Do you always compliment women right after you come?” Britt teased.
Matt grinned his crooked grin up at the ceiling. “Oh yeah, even the ones I’d don’t have sex with. I get really weird looks after masturbation.”
“It’s not about coming, but hey, that was gorgeous too, thank you very much. I was just thinking…looking at you…touching you…your skin is so soft, golden. You’re like living gold, Britt…just so beautiful.”
“So it’s a racial thing?”
He rolled his head back and forth on the pillow. “Come on Britt, we’re scientists; physicians. We know there’s really no such thing as race. That’s just crap people made up to justify not liking each other. And it’s not what I was talking about.”
“Matt, I was kidding. Don’t let white paranoia shake you up.”
“I’m not paranoid.”
Okay Britt, shut up, she warned herself. He just made nice love to you and paid you a compliment, and you’re ruining the moment with bad humor. She patted Matt’s sweaty chest, and let her fingers linger on the slicked down hair there. “Sorry, I was just messing with you.”
Matt propped himself up on one elbow and let his brown eyes scan her nakedness from her face down to where the sheet covered her hips, and then back up to her eyes. “Well, I wasn’t kidding,” he said. Sometimes I look at you, even at work, and I can’t believe how amazing you are. Not just beautiful, but brilliant, funny…”
“Okay, my head is swelling, so stop.” Don’t stop.
“I thought that on the day we met Britt, that you were just amazing. That was my impression of you within a couple of hours of meeting you.”
When they met she hadn’t thought Matt was amazing because she hadn’t wanted to like him. He was hired at New World Labs after her, brought in to work with her and her teammates on the Passion Project. She and Matt both specialized in Behavioral Neuroscience, and at first she’d felt threatened and challenged by his presence. She’d wondered if her supervisor, Dr. Glenda Engerman, had thought she wasn’t up to handling the work alone because at age twenty-eight she was the youngest member assigned to the project and had the least amount of hands-on experience.
But Dr. Matthew Garrison had quickly won her over with his charm and self-depreciating sense of humor. He’d put her at ease, and as they’d worked together she became thankful that he was there, because their workload was brutal. There was no way she would have been able to handle the hundreds of volunteer test subjects alone, not to mention the lab work. And okay, Matt was good-looking; dark-haired and softly handsome in a John Cusack kind of way.
As they’d worked together she got to know Matt, and then to really like him. He was thirty-six and a single dad. His son Davy was six-years-old.
They’d moved to New Jersey from Seattle after Matt was hired by New World. He’d told her that he’d wanted to start a new life after his wife Allison left them for a man old enough to be her grandfather and who had enough money to buy the American West Coast.
Matt leaned over, kissed her softly on her mouth and asked, “What’re you thinking?”
“Oh, nothing…just enjoying the moment.”
“We have some good moments, don’t we?” he asked. “Not just like this, either. Because of you I actually look forward to going to work.”
Now it was her turn to kiss him. She did, and then lay back again. She started to try to imagine a future with Matt, tried to see herself as his wife and as a stepmother to Davy. Then she told herself to quit it. She’d only known him for six months. They’d only been seeing each other for four months, and in accordance with her two-months-dating-before-sex rule, had been sleeping together for two months. Okay, not sleeping together: having sex with each other.
This was Episode No. 11 in their sex life. Nine of those episodes had occurred right here, in her bed in her condo. They’d done it once in the cargo space in her Land Rover in the parking garage at work, and had had a lunchtime quickie a lab storeroom. Those times were fun and hot but too risky to make a habit. Because of Davy they’d never done it at Matt’s house.
Matt was that rare man who liked to cuddle after sex, so Britt expected him to lie back down and snuggle with her for a little while the way he usually did. But instead, after he’d caught his breath he turned away from her, sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, but Davy was sniffling a little this morning and I’m thinking I should get home and relieve the babysitter.”
Another thing she liked about Matt was that he was such a good father. She touched his perspiration-slicked back and asked, “Do you want me to run down and grab you a bottle of water?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. She couldn’t see his mouth, but his shining brown eyes told her that he was smiling. “No thanks, there are gallons of it in the shower.”
“Yuck! How can you drink bathroom water?”
“Come on Britt, do you really think bottled water comes from some crystal clear babbling brook in the snowcapped Rockies?”
“Really, you should know this stuff better than me since you graduated high school as an embryo.”
“Hey, I was seventeen…well, almost seventeen…chump.”
“Still, you should know about drinking water. I bet they’ve got old Grandma Johnson in Detroit filling bottles in her bathtub.”
“No they don’t.”
“Probably while she’s taking her bath.”
“You can’t taste that old lady toe jam in each refreshing swallow?”
“Shut up! Go take your shower!”
This was the best thing about Matt, his quirky sense of humor. It was his sense of humor that had taken them from being coworkers to being in a relationship.
Well, sort of a relationship.
They’d been at work four months ago, in the lab reading together the first test report on the formula that would become the wine called Passion’s Nectar. The report had been submitted by Dr. Engerman herself, on a woman she’d called Subject 0. According to the report, after drinking an early version of the Passion formula Subject 0 had become so aroused that she’d had sex with multiple men over the course of a single night.
Standing next to her as they’d read the report on a monitor Matt had asked, “Do you think Glenda is really Subject 0?”
“Dude, you read my mind. I’m standing here thinking that she self-medicated.”
“I bet it is her,” Matt said. “The way she describes the subject’s physical reaction to the formula, it doesn’t read like observation or a transcription from a test subject interview. It reads like actual experience.”
“That’s what I was thinking. And what about the latent effects? Do you think our boss is walking around here horny all the time?”
Matt chuckled, “Now I’m scared to be alone with her.”
“Shoot, you and me both.”
Matt turned from the monitor to look at her. There was a mischievous glint in his chestnut eyes. “Knock, knock.”
Okay, seriously? “Who’s there?”
“The Passion formula is going to change lives.”
Okay, his made-up joke was terrible, absolutely terrible, but he’d flashed her a boyish, crooked grin, as if he were proud of himself for having been so clever.
It had been his crooked grin, not his awful joke that made her laugh and that had made her see how it was possible for a woman to love Dr. Matthew Garrison.
And then, somehow, his crooked grin and her laughter had become them kissing.
To this day she didn’t know how it happened. One moment they’d been standing next to each other in the lab, laughing over his stupid made up joke, and the next moment, they were kissing.
It wasn’t a long kiss but it wasn’t a peck, either, and then Matt had backed away and stammered, “Jesus Britt, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I’m sorry…”
He’d looked on the verge of panic, as if he’d thought that at that very moment the Human Resources storm troopers were thundering down the corridors on their way to the laboratory to take him down.
“Hey, it’s okay; no need to apologize,” she’d said. “Maybe we’ll have dinner or something before the next time.”
He’d given her a confused blink and frown. “Dinner? The next time? Oh sure, right…dinner. I’ll definitely take you out to dinner.”
“Matt, you don’t need to take me out. We’ll go Dutch.”
He blinked again, and this time his confused look was a revelation. His expression told Britt that probably in all the time Matt had known and been married to Allison, he had never not paid for the pleasure of her company. In the end he’d paid with his heart.
“You’re not gonna join me?”
Matt’s question pulled Britt out of her reverie. He was standing in the bathroom doorway, peeling the condom off his limp thing.
Britt slid out of bed and grabbed another foil packet from her nightstand. Okay, maybe this evening they’d knock out Episode No. 12, too.
 These events are detailed in the novella PASSION’S NECTAR by The Black.