Words with Friends with BenefitsbyIroniclaconic©
"You talked to Mrs. Weinbaum?"
She gave a half laugh. "I knew you were allergic to studio arts."
"What about brushwork? The complex interplay of light, texture, and pigment? The wry postmodern commentary on the obsolescence of artistic form in an uncaring world?"
Jasmine's smile was sly and appraising, unsure if she was being mocked. "Wing it. If you mess up too bad, I will repaint it. Or maybe just leave it. Mistakes are where a lot of stories come from. Years from now, people will come into the room, and they will ask, 'why is there a well-endowed purple elephant on the wall of your kitchen?' and I will say 'Max tried to paint a picture of an eggplant, and his stencil kept slipping.' Your artistic ineptitude may entertain my dinner guests for years."
That's what he was afraid of. Max selected the chili pepper and the red paint for his first attempt. As he began to work, he stole a look at Jasmine. She had climbed on a step ladder, and was painting an intricate grapevine pattern above the cupboards. She had found a way to look beautiful even wearing painting clothes. She had her auburn locks restrained in a ponytail, which was threaded through the back of a White Sox cap. (He had expressed dismay at her choice of a Sox cap. Her defense was that she only used it for painting, as she didn't want to splatter the Cubs cap he had bought her this summer.) With Jasmine's angular face, large eyes, and high cheekbones, whenever she wore a baseball cap, he had to suppress the urge to daub the tip of her nose with an ice cream cone and go twirling through a park somewhere.
Max screwed his face up in a frown and finished painting his chili pepper, switching to a tomato.
He hated it when his old college emotions would rear up. He had realized years ago that they would be much better as friends than lovers, and even though Jasmine's romantic indifference had made the decision for him, time had proven their judgments were correct. It was a good thing they weren't dating.
(Max watched her paint the grapes, thinking the color she chose somehow made them look sour.)
Jasmine had become his best friend — even more so the last few months. He had given up on Melanie so easily because he had been suspecting what Jasmine had voiced about her, and he enjoyed his game nights and conversations with Jasmine more than he had enjoyed dinner and trips to the symphony with Melanie.
Except the sex — all the online Scrabble knock-offs and pinochle-variants in the world didn't make up for the lack of that. He was getting horny enough that wet donuts were looking good, and now he was spending the evening working next to Jasmine, watching her shirt ride up as she reached over her head, exposing a flat, beckoning expanse of satin skin that made him want to pin her wrists in that position while his mouth explored every soft curve of her body.
Maybe he should rethink his don't-screw-the-crew policy and ask out that X-Ray technician who kept smiling at him. He had talked to her once, and her words were all banalities about what happened on The Bachelor. She had seemed vapid, but maybe it was an off day. She was very pretty, and she always wore tight skirts or pants that made her ass look almost as good as —
"Are you looking at my butt?" Jasmine interrupted the pogo-sticking of his thoughts.
She had busted him. Think fast. "Well, I was painting this tomato, and I needed to look at something round and curvy to get the shading right."
"Shading? You are painting six inches outside the stencil. The tomato looks like someone threw it against the wall and made it go splat."
Fuck. "Don't you know it's rude to bust a guy for checking you out when he doesn't think you are looking? I am disappointed at your invasion of my privacy."
That provoked a laugh, and she resumed painting her grape vine pattern in soft, delicate brushstrokes. "Just messing with you. It's okay. It's flattering when you look at me."
That was too damned close to patronization. Max went on the attack. "Like you don't check me out every time you follow me up a flight of stairs." When she denied it, he would insist he didn't believe her.
She glanced at him, and he saw a hint of a smile as she pulled out her phone and started typing. When finished, she put her phone back in her pocket and went back to paint another grapevine.
His own phone buzzed a minute later.
Jazmatazz has played TOUCHE for 8 points.
She had burned a blank tile to make the C.
Max argued that the least romantic place in the northern Chicago suburbs was the McDonald's Playland, as nothing quelled romance like the reminder of the children it sometimes begat. Jasmine had insisted it was the Five Guys in Evanston, for aesthetic reasons involving the bags of potatoes that the restaurant used as decor. He let her win the argument as the Five Guys burgers were much better.
After they had finished painting, she had released her hair from its ponytail, creating an auburn cascade across her upper back. She now wore a tight red t-shirt, black jeans, an oriental-patterned silk scarf, and boots. She looked far better that he expected for an Anti-Valentine's Day, and had this been a real date, he would have delighted to claim the woman on his arm as his own.
Waiting in line for their food, Max had more than enough time to notice everything about her — a shade of lipstick somewhere between a red rose and a ruby, her yin/yang earring studs, and the way a stray hair kept falling across her face. He had never stared at a woman so openly before in public, much less without her getting uncomfortable.
Jasmine sat at their table, shelling peanuts and popping them in her mouth, while looking at him with mock menace. She had a fistful of peanut detritus in her right hand, and he knew she wasn't afraid to use it.
He couldn't look away — she wouldn't let him — every time he turned his back, she threw a peanut shell at him. It was as if the salt in the peanuts were making her thirsty, and the only thing she could drink was his attention.
"Thanks for taking me out," she said when he brought their food.
"Well, there is no one I would rather spend Anti-Valentine's Day with than you."
Jasmine didn't touch her food, and instead placed her hands under the table and bowed her head as if to pray.
Max watched her, puzzled. Jasmine's Dad was Jewish and her Mom was Methodist, but he had never seen her go to either church or temple, and he didn't think she was particularly observant of either faith. He was certain he had never seen her pray before. Suddenly, she lifted her head and brought her right hand up, holding a handful of peanut shells in an open palm.
His phone buzzed, and he watched her slowly smile.
Jazmatazz has played SHUCKS for 14 points.
Max groaned. "You threw peanut shucks at me for five minutes and fished for a compliment just so you could play that word?"
Jasmine shrugged, holding her eyes wide open and baring her teeth in an embarrassed smile.
Jazmatazz has played WOO for 6 points.
Max made his own play and put his phone away. She was standing in front of him, with three DVDs held out in a fan. "You choose. I decided I was more in the mood for a thriller."
Max took them, and glanced at the covers. Mulholland Drive, Bound, and Swimming Pool. Jaz had good taste in films and knew what he liked, so the odds were that all would be good, but he hadn't seen any of them. The Bound DVD cover advertised it was by the same guys who made The Matrix, which indicated promise. He handed it over to her. "This one."
Jasmine started the movie, kicked off her boots, and sat next to him on the couch.
She did indeed know what he liked. It was a well-written thriller about a mafia girlfriend and an apartment handyman who decide to steal money from the mob, with the twist that the two were lesbians. The camerawork and dialogue were both top notch, and the characterizations were so well-drawn he found himself engrossed.
During a scene when Gina Gershon was called by Jennifer Tilly to fix the plumbing in her apartment, Jasmine switched positions, lying down on the couch and stretching her legs across his lap.
"You don't mind do you?" she asked.
Max conceded that he did not.
The only problem was that the scene developed into an extremely erotic lesbian sex scene, which was both wonderful and awkward at the same time.
Max knew how to watch a hot sex scene with a girlfriend — you curled up a little closer, and half the time you took an hour long break to have sex before finishing the movie.
Max also knew how to watch such a scene with a group of guys, where you made appreciative catcalls at the screen and assiduously avoided eye contact with each other, to prevent the unspeakable horror of looking another man in the eyes when each knew the other had an erection.
But he had no idea how to watch such a scene with a female friend.
Jasmine often invited him over for a movie night as part of her desire to make him share her love of films. She chose screwball comedies from the 30s, musicals from the 50s, gritty 70s urban thrillers, 80s comedies, and the occasional Kung Fu movie from China, but they had never watched a movie like this together before, and he wasn't sure how to act.
The major complication was the inevitable tenting in his khakis. He needed to adjust himself for comfort, but Jasmine's legs were stretched out on his lap, only inches from his awkwardly positioned organ. It didn't help matters that she evidently had restless leg syndrome, resulting in occasional flutter kicks.
"God, that's hot. Don't you think that's hot?" Jasmine was apparently unwilling to let the uncomfortable scene pass without comment.
"Yeah, kind of."
"What do you mean, 'kind of'?" She paused the film, leaving a frozen image of Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon folded into a sapphic embrace. "We have discussed your sex fantasies before, and you said this was one of your favorites."
"Alright, it is hot."
"Why are you acting so coy about what turns..." She stopped speaking and noticed the way he seemed to be trying to pull his hips into the sofa. "Oh! I am sorry. You have a hard-on."
Max said nothing.
She didn't move her legs. "Don't worry about it. You don't think I am turned on too? It's times like this I miss having a boyfriend."
This was safe ground. They had this conversation at least once a week, although never before with her calves so dangerously close to his erection. "I know what you mean," he said.
"I miss it, you know? It's been five months. How long has it been for you again?"
"Wait til you get to five." She stretched her legs, but when she settled them back down they were even closer to his crotch.
"Jaz, you aren't helping." The discomfort was increasing.
She just smiled at him and still didn't move her legs. "You want me to help you?"
Oh God. "Um, yeah?"
"By moving my legs away? Are you sure that is how you want me to help you?"
"What do you mean?" This wasn't a realm where ambiguity was good.
Her smile broadened and she bounced her legs on his lap again. "I think you know what I mean."
Max's brain enlisted his circulatory system in an emergency chemical redeployment, and his head swirled in vertigo while the discomfort in his groin turned painful.
Stay grounded. This is your best friend. It won't end well. His eyes had other opinions, and they watched as Jasmine used a strand of her own hair to draw auburn circles on an exquisite cheekbone.
Jasmine's eyes, wide open with pupils dilated from the dark, observed the play of emotions on his face. "I know you think we would suck in a relationship, so that isn't what I am suggesting, but we are both single and suffering from celibacy."
Max needed to remove any ambiguity. "You are talking about becoming 'friends with benefits'?" he asked.
"I find that a crass way of phrasing it. I prefer the term, 'fuckbuddy'."
That made him laugh. She joined him, releasing some of the tension, but her eyes never left his. She was waiting for him to decide, and her patient smile told him he had some time.
Conventional wisdom said this was a bad idea. He did know people who had tried this and failed, but they hadn't necessarily regretted the outcome, and none of those relationships had been anything like theirs. None of the women were anything like Jasmine. It might work.
So why was he hesitating? Why was disappointment mingling with anticipatory arousal?
Jasmine was impulsively destructive. He had thought she was making better choices since her mishap in September, but now here she was haphazardly offering herself to her best friend, dismissing any impact on their friendship. Last week she had been planning a seduction of some guy from work or the theater, and now the nameless colleague was forgotten. This flighty recklessness was just so... so... Jasmine. It was exactly why he had decided a romantic relationship with her would be a disaster, despite the depth of his a decade-long physical and emotional attraction to her.
But he was attracted to her. He had been convinced he was in love with her ten years ago. He had recovered, but she still starred in his fantasies, even though she was now his best friend. Whenever she described her sexual exploits, he couldn't help but imagine them, with himself as her lover. He wanted her. He knew that. He had always wanted her, even if he was strong enough to control it.
But did he want to control it any more if she was offering an alternative? Even if it risked everything they had?
Max expressed his concerns as delicately as he could. "It could wreck our friendship if things go sour."
"I think our friendship is pretty strong. Of course, if you just don't find me sexy..." Jasmine played the coquette and batted her eyelashes.
"You already know better than that."
"Yes, I think I do." Her legs wriggled on top of his crotch.
"Sex would turn tonight into something awfully like a date, violating the sacred traditions of Anti-Valentine's Day."
That brought on another smile. "Valentine's Day is focused around romance, and I know you don't have that in mind, as you think we would make a horrible couple, like you said in the car back in September. So you can think of this as sex without romance, which would be the apotheosis of Anti-Valentine's Day."
"You wonder why I find you sexy — you use words like 'apotheosis' in casual conversation."
Jasmine grinned and waggled her eyebrows at him. "Apotheosis. Epitome. Quintessence." She pronounced each word as if it were an obscenity whispered from the depths of lust, allowing him to see her tongue on every sibilant.
"Stop, you are getting me all hot."
"You won't do anything about it. You are too afraid. Daunted. Timorous." She was now flagrantly rubbing her legs against him.
Max recognized that she was trying to provoke him into making a move, but that was part of the charm.
He would regret this, he knew, no matter what he chose. If he denied her offer, it would never be made again, and he would forever berate himself for turning down the most desirable woman he had ever known. Acceptance, however, would be a surrender to Jasmine's native recklessness. He would be caught up in her sexual tumult, and would almost certainly damage their relationship once one of them wanted a normal dating partner.
Max knew that if he kept thinking, he would talk himself out of it, and he decided he didn't want that. The mischief in Jasmine's smile and the searing heat in her eyes both promised that the rapture would be worth any ruin.
"Are you going to kiss me, Max, or just think about it for the rest of your life?" It was as if she could read his mind.
Take some fucking chances, Max, she had said.
Max lifted Jasmine's legs off his lap, and slid between them to loom over her prone position on the couch, suspending his torso and hips just inches from hers.
She moistened her parted lips, tilting her chin in anticipation. "Oh my..." she said.
Max lowered his face to hers, and she closed her eyes just before their lips touched. He closed his own and felt the warmth of her mouth against his, tasting him. There was a slight quiver to her lips, which may have mirrored his own apprehension, or may have been his imagination.
He felt the softness of her tongue probe for his and was struck by a frisson of unreality. This was not Tasha, or Melanie, or Debbie, or that Australian intern in the supply closet at Cook County Hospital. This was Jasmine.
Jasmine had gone out to get drunk with him in college when Debbie had dumped him, and held his head the next morning as he emptied his regrets into a garbage can. He recalled the squeal of joy she had released over the phone when he told her he was doing his residency in Chicago, where she had just taken a job herself. Jasmine had been the only one in town he knew well enough to help him move, and they ate pizza and watched the sun set over the city from his new balcony. She had dragged him to a Guillermo Del Toro film retrospective, and had smiled as she watched his amazement at the images on the screen.
She was his best friend, and kissing her felt alien and familiar at the same time.
Max opened his eyes to look at her, and saw her eyelids flutter as if in REM sleep. Her face was more familiar to him than anyone outside his own family, yet he had never seen it this close, much less with such a naked expression of joy and lust. He closed his eyes again and lost himself — in the feel of her lips and mouth — her distinct scent of citrus and rosewater — the ripe yielding of her body as he pressed against her — the faint sigh emanating from the depths of her throat — the warmth of her limbs entwined around his hips, pulling him tight against her.
He remembered Jasmine describing the perfect first kiss to him — gentle yet passionate, full of a desire and heat that matched her own emotions. She had complained of boys (they were always boys when she described them thus) who tried to gag her with their tongue, or felt like they were trying to eat her lips. They had no sense of a kiss as an introduction rather than a consummation, she had said. He tried to emulate her idea of the perfect first kiss, and realized he was already there.
Jasmine's mouth opened wide, her tongue yielding further before him. She collapsed the remaining rigidity of her lips — beckoning him forward, to taste and experience her more fully, to explore parts of her he had only imagined.
Max gave her what she wanted, savoring the taste of her on his palate, just holding back enough to make her demand more, to provoke Jasmine into wanting to draw him inside her more fully. Her hips began to orbit, as she pressed herself against him, surrendering to the provocations of his body.
His hesitancy, his sense of unreality, his trepidation — all fell into nothingness.
"If you love like you kiss," Jasmine murmured into his mouth, "this is going to be... interesting." She tugged at his shirt, desiring its absence.
Max shifted to an upright position, noting the bemusement in her expression as she watched him take off his shirt. Did he see a glint of hunger as well, or was that a trick of the light?
Jaz twirled her fingers through his chest hair and ran her nails across his pecs. "I remember going swimming with you in college. You were kinda scrawny."
"Thanks for reminding me."
"I was trying to compliment you. You aren't scrawny any more. Whatever you're doing for exercise should be prescribed to all your patients." Her fingers traced the grid of his abdomen.
"Is that how it is with you? A platonic friend works out and you can't help wanting to rip his clothes off?"