Friends with Benefits - Nicole Blanchard

Chapter One


I got the text message while I was in the home improvement store trying to figure out which carpet to buy to replace the one my sisters had ruined.

I ignored it for a few minutes as I decided between sandcastle and brilliant beige. The last thing I should be doing is putting more stainable, light-colored carpet in their room, but these were the only two options in my price range, and my budget was already stretched to the max. My parents should be attending to this particular responsibility, but asking them to do anything responsible was like trying to pluck a star from the sky: impossible.

“How much is this one?” I asked, pointing to the beige. The clerk stretched to check the printouts as I dragged out my phone to read the text.

At first, my heart lifted at the From: indicator. It was Chris, my boyfriend, who was away at college in Miami. It had been a couple of days since I had heard from him, and although I wanted to talk to him more often, he’d made it a point to let me know I was smothering him, so I had backed off.

Apparently, I hadn’t backed off far enough.

CHRIS: Hey pretty lady. Wassup?

It should have pleased me to hear from him, but an indescribable weight seemed to take up residence on my shoulders. Anxiety bubbled in my stomach. All I wanted was for us to work out. Our relationship had become more work than anything else, but that’s what relationships were—or so I told myself. If I kept working at this, it would pay off.

ME: Getting carpet for the twins’ room. How are you?

Somehow, my relationship with the man who I thought I loved had turned into a carnival reflection of itself. I didn’t recognize it when I looked in the mirror. Chris and I had met when we were in high school and then reconnected when we were at the same community college. I had been training to be an EMT; he had been finishing prerequisites to transfer to a four-year university. To be honest, I’d had a crush on him for as long as I could remember, and when he had reciprocated interest, I had thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.

It had been a long time since I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.

Ever since things had gotten more serious and the time began to draw near for me to either stay in Tallahassee or join him in Miami, he’d begun to retreat. The more I tried to make it work, the more he pulled away. In my heart, I knew what that meant, but I didn’t quite know how to give up hope.

It didn’t matter. Reading his text told me all I needed to know about our future together. As the words began to sink in, my tongue went as dry as the Mojave, and my thoughts blurred together.

CHRIS: Look, I think I need to be upfront about something with you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I’ve met someone. I thought I should tell you.

My fingers went numb where they clutched at the phone. Even though I had an inkling it was coming, the reality was so much worse than anything I could have dreamt up. My vision went white, and, dramatic though it was, I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.

I’d never been the type of girl who went gaga over any guy, but I guess there was a first time for everything.

It shouldn’t hurt so much to have my suspicions confirmed. I hadn’t wanted to say my fears out loud, afraid that it would make them too real.

But here it was, in black and white. The undeniable truth.

The guy I loved, the one I’d trusted and believed in for so long, wasn’t who I thought he was.

The poor clerk who was reading off measurements, colors, and prices gaped after me as I dropped the other supplies I’d been considering in the shopping cart and then abandoned it in the middle of the aisle.

Normally, I loved this store. I loved the possibilities of it. The little apartment I rented for my family wasn’t in the best shape, and fixing it up was one of the most rewarding things about my somewhat dismal life. But suddenly the sky-high shelves of paint chips and caulk didn’t feel reassuring. Instead, the winding aisles became a maze from which there was no escape.

I texted a response blindly. I was sure to