Josh was in the middle of his second pint when Meg stormed into the pub, long jacket pulled tight, standing between him and his friends.
“It’s nine-thirty,” she said sternly.
Josh’s smile faded fast.
“Do you want a—”
“Get your coat, we’re going home.”
He smiled weakly at the rest of his friends around the table. They stared at their own drinks with more interest than was likely, pretending to miss what was going on.
“This is Meg, everyone,” he said. “Meg, this is—”
“I don’t care who they are,” she snapped. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you? Do you? Those candles are expensive, Josh! Do you think I like sitting around naked all night? I have things to do!”
The table cleared itself out right quick. Never before had so many people wanted to play pool at the same time. Josh took her by the arm, tried to sit her down on the seat next to him. She refused.
“You’re making a scene,” he said.
“Damn right I am,” she seethed. “We had an agreement, and instead of keeping up your end of the bargain, I find you out here with your friends!”
He sighed, took a long gulp of his beer.
“I think we need to change the rules,” he said. “This isn’t working anymore.”
She got the same look on her face she’d had when he first suggested the trampoline. She leaned forward, voice trembling with fury.
“Are you breaking up with me?” she rumbled.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, listen… we’re not dating, Meg. That’s the whole point of this, isn’t it? It’s friends with benefits. We’re doing this so we can’t break up.”
“Doesn’t seem to be stopping you.”
“I don’t want to break up with you,” he said. “I like you, Meg. I really like you. That’s why we were such good friends—”
“Yes, were!” he snapped, then lowered his voice to avoid eavesdroppers. “When was the last time we really talked? When was the last time we went to see a movie? Had dinner together, just talking?”
“I… I’m busy. You’re busy. I don’t know how we can schedule something like—”
“We find time for sex,” he said, picking up his beer again. “We can slot that in, but nothing else. We went from friends with benefits, to benefits with the occasional friendship.”
She took the beer from him, downed the rest of it.
“So what?” she asked. “No more sex?”
He sighed, looked at his friends playing pool, the quick, nervous glances over their shoulders to see if any blood had been shed. He shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just want to talk to you again. Can we start with that?”
“Sure,” she said, letting out a smile. “Sure, talking works. About what?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “What did we talk about before?”
They both stared into the empty space between them. Meg tapped a fingernail on the table, a tick tick tick that picked up speed as she lost patience. Josh picked up his beer to drink, but it was empty. He put it back down, but missed the coaster, and it almost slipped off the edge of the table.
Meg ran her hands through her hair, slumped down into the seat.
“This is what it’s like to be married, isn’t it?” she asked.
“I think so,” he grumbled. “You see what I mean? We’re strangers with the same schedule. Everything I loved about you is gone. Except it’s not… I just don’t get to see it anymore.”
They said nothing for a minute.
His friends cheered for a lucky shot, and Josh looked up, a smile creeping across his face. He held out his hand to her.
“Let’s try this again,” he said. “You want to play some pool?”
She smiled, took his hand, and they stood up. “Definitely,” she said. “I’ll kick your ass, like the old days.”
He laughed. “Dream on, loser.”
“Oh, loser am I? How about this? You go get us a pitcher each, and the loser pays!”
“You’re on,” he grinned, then held out his hands to take her coat. “Let me take that for you. It’s hot in—”
“Don’t,” she said, then leaned close, whispered. “I’m not wearing anything.”
He stared at her, at the coat done up tight, and then met her eyes.
“I thought we’d make up in the cab ride home,” she said, laughing nervously. He laughed too, then looked over his shoulder to his friends.
“Sorry, guys! Ball and chain beckons! Catch you later!”
This 1kStory was written for Sheila Lathia ("It's no longer friends with benefits but more like benefits with the occasional friendship").