Friends and Benefits
Chapter 31

Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, Light Bond, Group Sex, First, Safe Sex, Oral Sex, Masturbation, Petting, Sex Toys, Exhibitionism, Voyeurism, Slow, School,

Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 31 - I told her "It's a long, complicated story about friends with benefits. Or without benefits. Or... I don't know. Friends and benefits." It was the story of my mid-twenties and sorting out my confusion about women, love, and sex. But it was only in telling my story to a non-traditional "therapist" that I really found the answers and learned about the varied forms that love can take. Note slow code.

When the alarm went off, I was dreaming of Tina. We stood on the Chi O steps, kissing, while she rubbed her stocking-clad foot over my naked ass and talked dirty into my ear. As the fog cleared, I realized I was conflating Tina and Lisa. My heart sank into my gut.

I moped in the shower. Less than twenty-four hours after kissing Tina, I'd slept with another woman. Did I really let my dick run my life like that?

I looked down at my dick, but it didn't answer.

I sighed and finished getting ready to go into the office. I had plenty of work to do.

I managed to be relatively productive during the day, but the questions kept floating in the back of my head. Had I betrayed Tina? Did it mean I didn't love her, because I was willing to sleep with Lisa so quickly? Since I had a lot of code to debug, I had to keep pushing the questions aside.

When I got home, the thoughts about Tina started floating back, and I decided a walk would do me good. It looked like time for yet another scratch lottery ticket's worth of self therapy.

As I mulled things over, the first thing that became clear was that I didn't love Lisa. I enjoyed her company, even though she talked too much, and the sex had been incredible. But I didn't feel anything much deeper for her. It was definitely like instead of love.

Tina, well, Tina was definitely a different matter. I wanted her, but I dared not want too much. Our kiss hadn't been a promise, after all. More of a statement of possibility.

But what a possibility it was.

It was fragile, though. If I tried to hold onto her too tightly, I'd crush any chance we had. I'd told Mr. Delgado I'd give her room, and that was exactly what I had to do. Give her room to explore, and date other guys, and see if she liked me as a friend as well a lover.

I took a deep breath. It would be hard, but I could do it. At least I needed to believe I could. Self-confidence was half the battle.

That thought caused me to snort. If I'd had self-confidence, I wouldn't have gotten into the mess I'd made with Tina and Sharon. I would have figured out what I wanted and gone for it. Like Allen. Or Sherri. Or Lisa.

I smiled at the last one. Lisa certainly had gone for what she wanted last night. She'd been polite about it, but she'd gotten it. And enjoyed it.

My smile widened. So had I.

As I walked, I searched my gut. I just didn't feel guilty. It was more like I thought I should feel guilty and was beating myself up because I didn't. Yet there was no monogamy agreement with Tina and, while she wouldn't want the details, she probably wouldn't be upset that I'd been with Lisa. Probably.

I pulled up short at the door to the 7-Eleven. I was overthinking this.

I needed to stop that.

I could call Sherri, but I paused at that thought. I'd leaned on her a lot recently, and not been much of a friend in return. Maybe I should call Allen instead. Except I was confident I knew what he'd say. "What's the problem? She wants you to fuck her, so fuck her." I'd only seen him say no once, at his own bachelor party, when it had clearly been the right thing to do. When things were more ambiguous...

The problem was, I didn't have many other choices. I used to be able to call Sharon, but that was obviously silly. I didn't have a close enough relationship with anyone else to be able to talk about sex, so it had to be Sherri.

But as a friend, not as a cheap shrink.

It wasn't too late when I returned to my apartment, so I picked up the phone to call her. Lisa answered.

"Hi," I said. "It's Joe. I wanted to thank you for last night."

"Oh, well, thank you, too. The meal was delicious."

"As was dessert."

She chuckled. "Yes, it was. We'll have to do it again sometime."

"Sure," I said, the words tumbling out of my mouth before I could censor them. "I'd like that."

"Me too."

"Great." I paused, realizing what I'd said. "Uh ... I'm not sure when, though."

"That's okay. Just call me when you want to go out to dinner again."

I silently let out a breath. Lisa was making this easy. "I'll do that," I said. "Or you can call me."

"I'll do that."

"Uh, okay. Well, in the meantime, could I talk to Sherri?"

"Sure." A moment later, Sherri was on the line.

"It sounds like you had a good night," she said.

"Yeah, and I wanted to talk to you about it. Maybe later this week?"

"Oh? Sure. What did you have in mind?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "I was thinking dinner, or maybe cooking you breakfast. Something casual, but it's not urgent. So if you're busy, next week is fine."

"Saturday could work. Maybe brunch?"

"Sure. Any requests?"

"How about something spicy?"

"I can do that." We set a time and shortly thereafter got off the phone.

The week went by in a strange mix of haste and drawn out lethargy. I managed to lose myself in work, instead of being distracted by my relationship issues. That meant that I left each day feeling pretty happy about life. Then the evenings would drag. No calls from Sharon. No contact with Sherri or Lisa. Just me in the quiet apartment, trying to fill the time.

I couldn't stop thinking about the women entirely, of course. On Thursday I decided to write Tina, but when I read my letter Friday, I threw it in the trash. I needed "friendly," and it was too fawning. I needed to mention how much I appreciated the previous weekend, but gushing certainly wasn't 'giving her space.' I wrote another one, talking more about some of the cooking I was trying after thanking her for seeing me.

Or the cooking I was going to try. I set the letter aside and headed out to the store. Unfortunately, I'd procrastinated grocery shopping and so the evening turned into a last minute hunt for Serrano chiles. Fortunately, I found some in time to get back and prepare the muffins for the following morning.

Sherri arrived right on time, wearing jeans and a blouse. She smiled as she walked in and smelled the frying onions, Serranos, and garlic.

"You look casual," I said. "No client last night?"

She shook her head. "I haven't been getting as many calls as I thought I would."

"Your regulars didn't follow you?" I asked as I led her back to the kitchen.

She leaned against the counter as I cracked the eggs into the pan, making a frittata.

"Some," she said, "but not as many as I thought."

"Is that a problem?"

She frowned. "Sort of. I mean, if a client doesn't want to see me any more, that's his choice. But it makes me wonder if I was serving him well enough."

"Hmm." I cracked the eggs into the pan. "Maybe you served them well enough that they didn't need your help any more."

"Maybe." I glanced at her. "I've had a couple of clients thank me and tell me they didn't need my services any longer." She pursed her lips in a smile at the memory, before her eyes met mine. "But if a man just stops calling, I have no way of knowing."

"True," I said. "But why does it matter?"

She didn't answer.

"Seriously," I said. "Do you need the confirmation that you 'served' a client? I mean, I imagine it's nice, but you're not always going to get that, even if you've succeeded in helping him. And you're not always going to succeed."

"I have to succeed."

I raised my eyebrows and looked at her. She didn't reply. I was too busy with the finishing touches of brunch to comment immediately.

"Take the muffins to the table?" I said, gesturing to where they sat in a small basket on the counter.

Sherri nodded, picked them up and headed to the table. She slid into her seat while I brought the rest of the food. We talked a little about the feast I'd prepared, but soon fell silent, as our mouths were full. She smiled when she tasted the eggs. I waited until I had her attention.

"So," I said. "Why do you have to succeed?"

Sherri pointed to her full mouth and didn't speak.

"I mean," I said, "no one succeeds at everything. Isn't a Hall of Fame baseball career getting three out of ten hits? So you don't help some. Haven't you still succeeded?"

"But this is too important," she said after swallowing. "We're talking lives, not baseball."

"So? Becoming an astronomer was important to me, and I failed." I shrugged. "It might only be my life, but we're still talking a life."

"That's not the same."

"It's not?" I said, with an eyebrow raised. "Imagine how my life would have been different if I'd finished my Ph.D. I do, sometimes. I'd still be in Tucson and with Tina for one."

"You don't know that."

"True. But I might not have been so eager to leave, and we know where that eagerness got me."

She nodded. "But you might have gotten there anyway, even in Tucson."

"That's true, too. But it's no different from your clients. They may get where they're going despite your help. Be it bad or good."

She set her fork down and looked at me. "That may be true, but I still have to try."

"Oh, I don't doubt that."

"Weren't we going to talk about your night with Lisa?" she said, clasping her hands.

I couldn't help a small smile, but stuffed some more food in my mouth quickly so Sherri wouldn't notice. It also bought me a little time to think.

"We will," I said when I'd swallowed. "But this is important, too. If you're struggling, now that you've left the agency, I might be able to help."

"How?"

I shrugged. "I'm still figuring that out. Particularly because you haven't given me all the pieces. But I do know that you'll be better at 'serving' your clients if you don't need the confirmation of whether you've succeeded or not."

She frowned, but instead of saying anything, took another bite of frittata. I smiled and tried to convey that I was relaxed and this was no big deal, despite the fact that my heart was hammering a million miles an hour.

"If you don't want to talk about it," I said, "that's okay. But as a friend, I'm trying to help. I want to help you the way you helped me."

She met my eyes, and hers softened. Then she nodded. "Where I need help is with this new business," she said once her mouth was clear. "But I don't know what you can do."

"Well, tell me about it."

She paused and took a sip of orange juice. Her eyes widened and she looked at me.

"Fresh squeezed?"

"Of course. I try to take care of you."

She smiled and set it down. "I think I told you about this former client who wants to go into business with me."

"You mentioned him. He works for America Online, if I remember right."

She nodded. "He's offered to handle the business side of an agency for me—advertising, the legal cover, and so on, and to give me the money to rent an in-call location."

"Why not do that by yourself?"

"I could do a lot of it, but not the online stuff." She saw the question in my eyes. "He says that I should advertise online. I'll be able to run longer ads with less chance of getting police interested in me."

"Maybe," I said. "This Mosaic software lets you load pictures, and if AOL's doing something like that, I think it would certainly help your type of business."

She nodded. "A lot less expensive than the Washingtonian magazine too."

"But, if money's no object for this guy..."

She frowned. "He doesn't have much, yet. He swears that AOL stock is going to take off and make him rich. But until then ... I don't want to use our apartment for in-calls, which means I need to be able to pay two rents."

"Why not just do out-call?"

"That would cut down the number of men I could see."

"Which brings me back to my original question. Why does that matter?"

She looked at me like I was crazy.

"Seriously," I said. "If you had a few wealthy clients, and charged them more, you'd be just as well off as with a lot of clients."

"That's what Lisa thinks I should do."

I nodded. "But you don't."

"No."

I put my fork down. "Maybe," I began, my words carefully measured, "maybe you wouldn't have a chance to save as many, but maybe you'd be more successful."

"What?"

"Go back to my baseball analogy," I said. "Does it really matter how many times you're at-bat? Or what your batting average really is? No. What matters is how many runs you score."

"But you can't score without hitting the ball. And that requires being at-bat."

"No," I said. "That requires your team being at bat." Ideas started to cascade through my brain. "What if, instead of trying to save ten guys, you saved one guy who could then go save ten guys? Or what if you trained other women to 'serve' men in the way you do?"

She started to snort, but then stopped herself. "I was going to say I've tried that. I've tried teaching other working girls, but I haven't thought about teaching men to help other men."

"You've also been trying to work with women who were already in the agency. What if you spread out? Surely, there are women who'd like to learn about pleasing men. After all, you did, and you're gay."

She looked thoughtful. I realized a way I could hammer my argument home.

"Look," I said, "I'm not an astronomer. I didn't conceive of Hubble, and I'm not one of the guys who gets to pick what we look at, or what it means when we do. But I'm still part of the team. Do you think one lonely astronomer with his telescope could bring back the images we do as a group?"

This time she did snort. "I thought it bothered you to be a programmer instead of an astronomer."

I grimaced. "Okay, you got me. But still, you get my point. You can't serve them all, by yourself. You have to think bigger than a partnership. Maybe even bigger than an agency. Or else you've got to accept that you're not going to 'serve' very many."

She'd been nodding along until the final sentence, when she frowned. She looked down at her plate, and then scooped up some more egg. She paused, just before putting it in her mouth.

"So tell me about Monday night."

I sighed, but decided to let her change the subject. I took a deep breath and a sip of coffee.

"Well, you know the basics. Lisa and I went out to dinner and ended up back at your place."

"Yes, she said she really enjoyed the evening." Her eyes danced and I knew she was referring to more than dinner.

I blushed. "Yeah, I enjoyed it, too. But I don't feel guilty about it."

"Why should you?"

"Well, it was less than 24 hours since I said goodbye to Tina. And I jump in bed with another woman."

"So? You and Tina aren't monogamous."

"I know," I said with a nod. "And I don't feel like I betrayed Tina, but that feels wrong, somehow."

Sherri smirked. "Do you love her?"

"Who? Tina? Yes. Lisa? No. At least, not romantically."

"That's what I thought."

I looked at her, waiting for her to continue.

"It sounds like you're mixing sex and love again."

"What? You mean that eros and philios stuff?"

She nodded.

"I suppose you're right," I said. "I feel eros toward Tina, but not toward Lisa. That's more philios."

I paused, and let it slowly sink in. I couldn't help a small snort.

"I guess that's why I don't feel guilty," I said. "I mean, it was sex, but it wasn't love, at least not in the way I feel it for Tina, which is why I don't feel like I betrayed her."

Sherri smiled broadly. "You've got it."

"Although," I said, "if Tina and I were monogamous, it wouldn't matter what I felt for Lisa. I'd be betraying her. By breaking her trust."

Sherri nodded. "You didn't do anything wrong. You went out for a fancy dinner with a friend, and instead of taking pictures at the end of the evening, you ended up in bed. Nothing wrong with that."

I started to nod, and then the implication of her words sunk in.

"Taking pictures?" I said. "You're saying I did with Lisa what I always wanted to do with Sharon?"

"Didn't you?" she countered. "After all, wasn't it after some fine dining that you and Sharon first did something sexual?"

"Yeah."

"And wasn't your whole story about not going for more with her?"

"Yeah. Though that was her fault as much as mine."

Sherri arched an eyebrow. "You weren't assertive."

"I wasn't assertive with Lisa."

"No? Not even a little?"

"Not really," I said. "She was the one that led me back to the bedroom." I paused, and tilted my head. "Of course, once she did, I didn't screw it up."

That drew a smile. "So, are you going to be assertive in the future?"

"Sure," I said. "Why not?"

"That sounds pretty wishy-washy."

I laughed. "You're right." I pulled myself up straight. "Yes. Yes, I will be more assertive. With Lisa and with other people."

"Good."

We smiled at each other, and then our conversation drifted to food, and Mexico, and travel. After we'd finished, Sherri's eyes darted to the clock.

"I should get going," she said.

"I'll walk you to the door."

Once there, she turned and melted into my arms for a deep hug. It felt great, with her body pressed against mine. She started to pull back, but I stopped her.

"How about a goodbye kiss?" I asked, my eyes dancing. "You did say you wanted me to be more assertive."

She smiled. "I did."

With that, she tilted her head up and closed her eyes. Our lips met, and the kiss lasted just long enough to be more than chaste, but less than hot and passionate. She pulled back and smiled at me, before I let her slip from my arms.

"I'll call you," I said.

She nodded, waved, and disappeared down the steps.

I sighed, smiling, and returned to the kitchen to finish cleaning up. The rest of the afternoon, I did laundry and other chores, thinking about the meal and about Sherri's business problems. The more I considered it, the more I was sure I was right—that she needed to do something besides just escorting. But I didn't know exactly what.

As I finished my cleaning, I passed my desk with my letter to Tina. I read it again, and while the tone was fine, it really didn't say much. Because I hadn't done much, really. Outside of Lisa and Sherri, my week had been pretty empty.

Except it would have been empty before Lisa and Sherri came along. TV, the phone call with Sharon, and some reading. None of those made good content for a letter. I needed things to be able to talk about with Tina, just as we'd talked when we'd been dating.

I snorted. I need to get out more.

Why not start tonight?

I decided to walk back down to the 7-Eleven, but this time to buy a paper instead of a lottery ticket. Reading it on the way back, I found a couple of art house movies playing in the Dupont Circle area that I knew Tina would love. Even better, I knew it'd be a while before they opened in Tucson, if ever. Checking my watch, I knew I'd have time to eat dinner somewhere near the theater and still catch the 7:00 show of Belle Epoque, which sounded like a fun comedy.

Unfortunately, enough other people must have had the same idea, because it was sold out. Sold out here, opening weekend, and it'll probably never open in Tucson, I mused. I bought a ticket to the 9:15 show.

Since I had time to kill, I wandered over to Crown Books. It wasn't too crowded, for a Saturday night. Given that I had two hours, I decided to start at one end of the store and browse the entire thing.

I didn't find much of interest in the early sections. I carefully put the cookbooks back on the shelf after thumbing through them, and I hadn't gotten to fiction yet. I'd probably been in the store about 45 minutes when I hit the human sexuality section. Since they were shelved alphabetically, the first book to catch my eye was The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, by Margo Anand.

I blinked. She was one of Sherri's teachers.

I pulled the book off the shelf and started slowly thumbing through it. Awakening your inner lover. Opening to Trust. That one made me snort and slow down. I could probably use any pointers to help me rebuild trust with Tina. The Inner Flute stuff looked weird, and made me think of Sherri's religious mumbo jumbo, but the stuff on Ecstatic Response and Expanding Orgasm looked interesting. I closed the book and read the back cover, and then hefted it a couple of times.

If I wanted to help Sherri, I needed to understand her more. I needed to get this book.

Of course, one wouldn't be enough. I pored through the rest of the sexuality section and selected two others that looked promising, or at least like they'd give me a different perspective on all this stuff. Then I wandered over and found a novel before checking out. I found an out-of-the-way corner to read until it was nearly showtime.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, perhaps because I identified with the protagonist. A war deserter, he managed to sleep with four sisters, some at their instigation, some at his own. The amusing thing is that none of them were jealous. I could only wish that for myself. That said, I knew that saying so in my letter to Tina would be a bad idea.

For I did write her when I got home, staying up later than I'd expected. I reread the letter the next morning and mailed it, before spending the rest of the afternoon curled on the couch with my new books.

By Monday evening, I had a couple of ideas of how I could help Sherri. I'd spent some time, playing back memories of Sherri's words and actions around 'service' and 'ministering, ' as well as our recent conversations. After dinner, I gave her a call.

"Hi," I said, after she'd answered the phone. "This is Joe. I'd like to make an appointment to see you."

"Hi. An appointment?"

"Yeah," I said. "A professional appointment. I think I need a teaching session. I've been reading some books on Tantra, including the one Margo Anand wrote, and I don't see anything on 'Goddess Worship.' I want you to teach me what it is."

She chuckled. "Well, I'm surprised it's not in the books, but we can do that."

"And I do mean professional," I said. "I'll pay you. Consider it your first appointment for your new business."

"What?"

"Your new business. Sexual instruction and coaching. You can combine that with escorting, or keep it separate, but I was thinking that maybe if you advertised that you did instruction and coaching, you'd get more guys who really needed to be 'served.'"

"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that."

"I know," I said. "And I think it'll work. To jump start it, I'll be your first client. I won't even ask for a discount."

She chuckled. "I'm not sure what I'm going to charge."

"You'll figure it out. Does Friday work?"

"How about Saturday afternoon?"

"Sure. Two o'clock?"

"Sounds good."

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