Readers Report: Friends with Benefits

By

A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “Friends with Benefits.”

Edited by Susan Clements.

* * *

“We’ll be the ones to make this whole ‘Friends With Benefits’ thing work. We’re grownups, we’re cool. We can do this once in awhile. Best-case scenario: we end up in a relationship. Acceptable scenario: we get drunk and do this again every few weeks. Worst-case scenario: we go back to being friends. Win-win-win. Totally fine. Let’s get some breakfast.”

That was my looping, internal monologue the morning after a close female friend and I got drunk and spent the night benefiting each other. I was, of course, wrong, and it was only a matter of weeks before the worst-case scenario played itself out.

In the Venn diagram of interpersonal relationships, which would contain “friends,” “lovers,” “sexual partners,” and “people you’d be willing to share a lease with,” the “sexual partners” circle would be small, and ideally it would sit in the intersection of “lovers” and “people you’d be willing to share a lease with.”

In actuality, relationships are less of a Venn diagram and more of a super-confusing flow chart. One that either starts with “friends,” or “people you’d be willing to share a lease with,” then leads to “sexual partners,” or “lovers.” If you end up landing on “lovers,” you can hang out there for a while and sometimes loop back around to friends, but never back to sharing a lease. Unless you’re a little crazy. If you land on “sexual partners,” and stay there for too long without moving on to “lovers,” good luck getting back to friends, and it’s almost impossible to skip ahead to “sharing a lease,” unless you’re completely fucking crazy.

I’ll probably try it again though.

— Jim Tews

 * * *

I mean, there were a lot of disclaimers. We embarked on a program of mutual rehabilitation through sex. Actually A wasn’t my friend until after we became lovers. If love equals sex on one hand plus intimacy on the other, well, we attempted to skip intimacy. We were very clear on that condition. When our feet tangled together at night, after a second one or the other of us would kick them apart. No apologies were owed or expected.

‘I don’t want a boyfriend.’ Someone else was in the process of slowly picking the seeds out of my heart, gradually emptying it of fecundity.

‘I don’t want a girlfriend.’ He’d found the girl he wanted to marry and have children with. They migrated across the world together. For years they travelled in the same direction. A found out that she’d been cheating on him. He doubted his human value.

We were two people breaking up from the inside out. It seemed medicinal. Whenever we felt too close to the edge of being in a socially acceptable relationship, we shook ourselves. We reiterated what we weren’t looking for and stepped away from the precipice that broke so many bones the last times we jumped off it.

It helped that we didn’t live in the same city. Once, when we were Skyping, I caught the way A looked at me, before he cottoned on and rearranged his face. Some kind of tenderness covered over by composure, it was there for just a moment.

About a year into it, I lay in bed with a friend of mine who hugged me with easy affection while he slept. I remember thinking, What am I doing maintaining a lover? Isn’t this kind of fraternal love better? But that was during the dramatic part of the night, maybe four a.m., and in the morning I felt different.

I admired A; I still do. I learned a lot from him about both sex and life. I looked for, and couldn’t find, the faults he listed about himself when we began. A told me that I was sweet and loving. The ending, when it came, was overdue but conducted with kindness and honesty. A was ready to jump into dark unknowns with someone new. I’m still holding onto the railings, but my courage is growing back. Any moment now I expect to lose my grip and fall.

— Arike Oke

 * * *

We’re walking quickly down a hill, energized by the warm night. He laughs and tells me, “Bobby says we’re friends with benefits.” I smile nervously because it’s true, and I don’t want him to know. “What?! What did you say?” I ask, feigning surprise. “I told him it’s not true. I care about this. I want to make it work.”

He keeps saying that, and I never say it back. I can’t risk giving this up yet. He’s not selfishly infatuated with me, seeking any affection, approval, attraction. He would break up with me if he knew my motives. Then I would pretend to fix it, and he’d believe me.

I was never attracted to him. He’s not what I expected—an inch shorter than me, prideful, a messy eater, loud. There’s nothing really wrong with those things. I think of a Seinfeld episode when I realize my petty hesitations. Jerry dumps a girl for eating her peas one at time. George gets engaged to another woman because the one he’s dating says “Happy, Pappy?” So I consider sacrificing those things. I can choose to love anyone. I haven’t made the decision yet.

Good conversation is friendship, and sex is a selfish benefit. These are the perks of our relationship. The night I knew he liked me was the first night I got drunk. He left the party, and I later found him to get my bag. I knew something was going to happen. He had been watching me closely all night.

He was lying down on the bed in his dark room. I joined him, sitting near his head. We talked about a friend’s addiction to marijuana, my mom’s alcohol and coffee habits, my guilt for getting drunk and fear about becoming like them. Leaning over so I was half-lying next to him, my legs still hanging off the bed, I poked the top of his head. Interrupting his own advice to me, he said, “That feels nice.” I started lightly playing with his hair. Eventually, he talked about the potential of liking me. I was quiet and let it happen.

Now, after we get as close to sex as we let ourselves, I feel guilty for my selfishness. Sometimes he knows, and then he says we won’t make out anymore. I don’t voice everything else I want to stop doing.

— Francesca Luppino

  * * *

New Year’s Eve on a rooftop in Boston, a mix of people from high school along with other college students, and we were all nineteen, then. A green-eyed girl I’d known for years in the honors classes came up to me. I never would have imagined her drunk, but she was. From 9th grade on, we went to very tame parties in the sprawling upstairs of her parents’ renovated farmhouse. They trusted all of us. They hardly ever checked in. We were just nerdy guys and girls hanging around talking, listening to music. She was a farm girl. She loved horses. Her family had a few of them she rode.

That night she said to me, “You’re a jerk. I liked you, but you never liked me.” “I liked you,” I said, trying to play defense. She had a firm grip around me, and I couldn’t move without causing a major disturbance. We kissed. And fireworks went off in the sky, because it was midnight.

A week later, I went to see her at her parents’ house. It was freezing and dark. We watched a movie in that upstairs space, and the door to the downstairs was closed. I felt her breasts. They were small and suited her thin frame perfectly, and she had the softest lips I still have ever known. I had a cold that night, and I didn’t want it to happen. I wanted things to go back to the innocence of 9th grade. She offered me a sip from a small bottle hidden in her dresser, and I knew everything was different. I felt afraid. It was too fast. I blew her off when she tried to visit me at school that winter.

Years later, I wrote her a letter, sent to her parents’ house. I wanted to tell her that something she said on the roof that night stayed with me. She said, “You have a lot of friends. We’re all your friends here. We can help you.” It hit me at a particularly lonely moment, and I wanted to tell her she was right. I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Not ever. She wrote back. She was in Chicago, then, and things had changed, but she had shaken me. She had this power that I had never realized.

— Joe Sullivan

* * *

You left me your turntable and I broke it. I didn’t break it right away and it wasn’t on purpose. You left the records too, stacked high on a shelf over my bed. James Taylor was my favorite. I listened to “Sweet Baby James” when it rained. I liked moving the needle back to the same song, over and over again.

I was just keeping the turntable until you came back. You couldn’t move it all the way to Georgia that summer. You were only going for a few months and we were still good friends. When you sent me letters, I opened them cross-legged on my bed. The letters always ended with words about feelings and my feelings were confused. I slid the letters between the records. They might tell a great story that hadn’t unfolded yet, so I folded and saved each one.

You came back for a visit in the winter and that was when I told you it was broken. It still played the records, but it played them too fast. John Denver swallowed a lung-full of helium and sang “Rocky Mountain High” way up high. I tried to fix it, but I couldn’t. You slept in the bed where I sat cross-legged opening letters. I wanted to know better, but it was a small room and it was full of you and me and the record player.

But I couldn’t play records anymore. The thing started to get dusty on my dresser. I was dusting it, always dusting it, wasting all of this time dusting a piece of junk that didn’t even work. I was dusting it every day and shoving letters in between records and the letters were dusty and the records were dusty and so I said, Enough. I packed the turntable and records in the closet and you didn’t come back again.

When I moved last summer, you asked me to take everything to your parents’ house. As I packed it up, I found the letters, flattened and preserved between record sleeves. I didn’t read them. I dusted each record and tore each letter in half. I don’t listen to James Taylor anymore. What did you do with the turntable?

I bet it’s still broken.

— Lisa Buchs

 * * *

Since it was Tuesday, Claire didn’t work. And since she didn’t work, she tended to sleep in.

It was crap for her sleep hygeine, her doctor told her. She saw a sleep specialist. A Dr. Martin Quinn. He looked like Matthew Modine. He set up studies for her where she would sleep in a bed with wires attached to her. He would talk to her in his cold office with its comfortable chairs.

“Try to get to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.” Here he would lean closer, across the table. “Don’t  watch TV three hours before bed.”

She was different when she was with him. She wasn’t a barista with a hangover and half-done sleeve on her left arm. She talked different, listened different, looked different.  She swore to god she walked different.

But the guilt. In the morning, the guilt and the sunshine seemed to be twins, just like recklessness and the dark shared the same DNA. She would turn the TV off that she had fallen asleep to and then stare at its blank screen. It only reflected her.

Since it was Tuesday, she had to be somewhere. She saw her doctors on Tuesdays: chiropractor, psychologist, physiatrist,  psychiatrist, endocrinologist, Martin. Each time, she was somebody different. An exquisite snowflake each time falling for the first time. Instead of just falling all the time . . .

She opened her nightstand and pulled out all her cards. She let them slowly dazzle over her in bed. Like Demi Moore, before she broke down on a strange combination of legal drugs and social role displacement.

All of her insurance cards with all of those different names. She stole them from friends’ wallets, friends who had jobs with benefits. She would call the company and say she had lost them; could they send her another? And then back to the wallet when they weren’t looking. She paid the co-pays. She paid for parking.

And that’s how she became a different person once weekly. And since it was a Tuesday she was going to be Emma Ross. And if she didn’t get a shower, Emma was going to be late. Today she was getting an adjustment from her chiropractor. He was going to help her fit.

— K. Sharp

 * * *

You locked us inside the bathroom and made me look you in the eyes while you testified: “When I’m with you, you’re my entire life.” Then your mind wandered. When I wasn’t there, you said, he was all you could think about. That’s the last thing I remember. When you unlocked the door I must have gone straight to the bar to make sure I wouldn’t remember more.

After two months you left home and got an apartment with your new boyfriend who didn’t know you had a girl down the road. That information was need-to-know, and you decided that he didn’t. He could have figured it out the night you met, might have interpreted my arm around your waist as a claim of sorts, but again, he didn’t. No one corrected him.

I’m sure it was a comfort to have someone you could love in public, whose hand you could hold, whom you could introduce to your parents. You hadn’t told them yet, so when I awoke in your room on holiday mornings and drank coffee in their kitchen, your sweat dried on my skin, I was your friend. Your friend who stole moments of tenderness, who jumped to the other end of the couch whenever a pin dropped because you mustn’t be found out. Who did whatever had to be done to hold on to you.

I can’t say I was beyond reproach. We had an agreement, I also had others, and mine were first. It was different, though; I held my love in reserve, for you. The first time, I called you from a payphone using two quarters I’d saved for laundry. I have something to tell you, I said, and even though you knew what it was you waited for me to say it. He was your best friend; he’s still one of your best friends. I knew him separately, had known him before I met you. Still. I said his name and after a beat of silence the line clicked dead: my quarters were done. We were suddenly living a predictable scene from a bad movie. I had to make it through two more hours of class before I could call you back from my room. Two hours to wonder why I had to say something right away. Two hours before I could make sure you were okay—make sure we were okay.

— Elis Bradshaw

* * *

We had been corresponding with each other fairly regularly, and it has now been quite awhile since I’ve heard from you. I was the last one to make contact, so “the ball is in your court,” as they say. A considerable amount of time has passed since then, though, and perhaps I ought to pick up the slack. Or maybe you didn’t wish to continue the conversation? Is it possible you’ve grown tired of our repartee and would prefer I not try to communicate with you any longer? If this were the case, then it would be wise for me to refrain from attempting another dialogue with you. I wouldn’t want you to grow annoyed with me or to put you in the position of thinking that you must respond in order to spare my feelings. Or maybe I’m overreacting and you’ve been busy and have merely forgotten to reply. That’s understandable. I’ve also been busy, and it’s not as if I’ve gotten in touch with you recently, either. Perhaps you’re also questioning whether or not I wish to renew these conversations, and this is holding you back from contacting me. Word from me, then, might be a relief to you and lead to a resurrection of our correspondence. Is this what you want? As I cannot know your mind in this matter, I am unsure of how to proceed. I would be grateful if you could find some way of letting me know.

— Kyle Smith

 * * *

The first time I met you, there was a pregnant stripper grinding her G-string into the lap of your friend, the birthday boy. When she revealed her small belly, the women in the room gasped and glanced at each other, appalled, but the men muttered that it was just a pooch. I saw your face; you knew better. You didn’t want to ruin the party and I thought that was strangely sweet. On a fraying flannel couch, you touched my thigh and asked me for my phone number and I forgot about you.

I went to college and many things were lost and won. When I came back, you and your phone number were still there. In the blue glow of your bedroom—the only room in which we ever spent even a moment—we did all of the things you had wanted to do and I was only just then ready to attempt.

Everything fit the way it was supposed to fit, and I never had to explain to you the things that I wanted. To be silent and so well understood was new to me, someone who relies on an excess of words to make my simplest point, someone for whom sex is mostly about talking.

That was six years ago.

The boy whose birthday it was is no longer a friend of yours for a reason you have never explained but has something to do with gambling debts. I haven’t spoken to the girl who brought me to the party with the strippers in years. I think she’s a chiropractor now. That stripper has a six-year-old.

I live a thousand miles from you, but every Christmas, most Thanksgivings, and some arbitrary Tuesdays every summer we reconvene in your bedroom to not talk.

It is the longest relationship I have ever not had.

— Emily Heist Moss

 * * *

“A taxi will be quicker.”
“The yellow lamp is the right height but red’ll go better with the rug.”
“The suburbs have better schools.”

Most necessary rational choices come as a result of comparison. Love becomes a necessary rational choice but usually doesn’t start that way. For a time extraneous sights and sounds do not become apparent over the pitch-black din of the person who can never be close enough. The brain and the body will try to crack the seal but love can stay alive and incomparable in perfect vacuum forever.

Life always finds a way. Love sometimes finds a way to adapt.

Love can be the result of a necessary rational choice. Take it and put it in a cracked vessel. Close it. Needn’t be airtight. Hand-tight’ll be fine. This will be easier than keeping it pristine. This will be better. This is the only way it can be right now. This is better. This is easier.

This is not love.
This is less significant.
This is temporary.
This is a vacuum.

There are no necessary rational choices left. Love will leak in through the cracks and life must defend itself immediately and violently or be forced into another choice. Reject or embrace the aggressive and unnecessary and irrational. It is impossible to compare competing bloody outcomes.

Love always finds a way. Life always finds a way to adapt.

“Let’s just walk—they’re always late anyway.”
“I thought we were getting rid of that rug.”
“We don’t have to decide this tonight—just come to bed.”

— Matthew Charles Donald

 * * *

My friend with benefits is rich now and full of himself, used to be that he was just full of himself. So, you’d think that the rich part would be good. Today he told me he’s going to invest in an Internet email fledgling company. That was before he mentioned he had to have his fishing boat serviced and the boat lift repaired. Even he admits that these service payments are like charitable gifts. Small maritime companies smile when they see my friend, the gentleman fisherman. There’s always maintenance on a boat and real fishermen likely fix things with duct tape and do without fancy systems. But rich ones hone their relations and buy stuff like top notch fish-finder electronics. They gladly write the checks to be called Captain So-and-so. As for the email company, my friend thinks he’d like to invest $50K. He has a good feeling about this one. That’s what he does now is invest in start-ups. He went on to say he’ll get a Board position. So back when he was only full of himself he worked for a famous company with arrogant computer geeks. It served our family well and the benefits rolled in with gusto. There were braces for the kids’ teeth, stock options, and we’d get to eat at the company’s gourmet cafeterias. On Saturdays we’d direct the kiddos to go to bed after a day of nurturing activities. And my friend and I would roll around in the so-called hay with energetic benefits—stand up, lie down, turn around, and all kinds of traditional stuff. For us, two friends, who met in college in the 70s, we’d missed Woodstock, but donned tie-dye and twirled at lots of Dead shows. Our loving felt creative and free. It made us blush in the dark and smile in the morning. The kiddos left for college and landed jobs far away. The captain or director, or whatever he wants to be called likes being rich, but doesn’t seem to like hay rolling so much anymore. Maybe it would have been better to hook up with a farmer rather than a fisherman. He might like hay better. Or maybe I’ll have to learn to bestow more benefits and bite the bait.

— Emily

 * * *

Bowling alley. In the humid cigarette of cat. On the stairs under. The door mat. On guitar cases—in bicycles—my hand on corduroy, a stuck lozenge. You like a lounge chair. There was a white pet. Her fuzz would cling to you. There was a back porch. First your sun, then mine. We kissed a quick idea of light, each other later when my hair was messier. Your bicycle became a body I would like to carry or I had to carry. I would like to drown. I would like to drown, if there was heaven quickly after. I knew, pointing my toes: naked or never. The ball rolled down the aisle. Lips parted. The gutter shone. A gate came down to say the time. You held me in your sleep, tighter than me. You could have had me for the coins it took to buy a ginger ale. I had one sip. We played Battleship. I planted sunflowers that didn’t take. We leaned tremendously. The sheets creased theoretically, then literally. I made cookies. On a flower plate. So many trees to see! The printer spitting out its music notes. Heat vs. Fan. Let’s try this on the scratch carpet. Let’s strike a pose.

— Sarah Green

 * * *

We agreed to pause this thing until we were living in the same place, yet nothing changed last time I visited. You squeezed and twirled me around at the airport and drove down again to spend the night with me. My heart lifted. The groove along your neck still smells like vanilla and we laugh naked in bed. We are ephemeral lovers and we are most reliable for those intense hours when we’re in the same city.

In those moments, when your long arm wraps over my ribs and snakes between my breasts, my desire to wander ceases. This is it. We alternately intertwine our limbs and then move to the edges of the bed, playing our game of cat and mouse while we sleep. I want you and I don’t want your indecision. You want to live unfettered. I want a relationship, a partner, a lifetime of adventure and smelling your neck. You say you’re trying to live day to day. I say fear drives you.

Are you my friend or a long lost lover coming back again?

— Kathleen Hurley

 * * *

Amy had very recently been pregnant and I was sorry to hear the thing had died inside  her. I found her on the floor of her apartment, this in Aberdeen, New Jersey, surrounded by magazines in a one-size-too-small peasant blouse and her left thumb swathed in gauze. She looked uncomfortably moist. The summer was miserable and everything at middle distance blurred in the haze of increasingly interminable afternoons.

These miscellaneous periodicals, mostly gossip and style rags, were strewn about her, the faces on the covers staring, indicting her in an arc of vapid gazes. Fashion starlets and actresses with heavy black paint under their eyes, pouting their giant lips unnaturally. Addled Kabuki monsters. I tried reading one upside down: 10 Secrets to Regaining Your Pre-Baby Bod!

We drank and didn’t talk about it. I hadn’t seen her put something foul to her lips in five months.

“This fucking place,” she said, “It’s an oven.”  She was glistening.

“We should go somewhere,” I offered. She glanced at her half-full bottle and seemed to agree. I think we were both eager to get out of there.

Her little domicile was fitted upon the far eastern side of our suburban New Jersey town, the place we grew up. Out of Amy’s back window you could see across the Hudson and stare directly onto the rising breast of New York City, or else Manhattan, or else the Big Apple. I had just been there, was still freshly flushed from the constant motion and going, but it was eerie to watch the place now—unmoving and asleep from this distance—from our blue-collar microcosm not but forty miles away. Like gazing upon Eden from some vastly less perfect neighboring district, or perhaps more like peering into the belly of Sodom from the perch of a bucolic paradise. I’m trying very hard to say that it’s different, that living in the shadow of all those towers makes you crazy after a good while.

Amy had thrown on an oversized maternity jacket, a grey pea coat with inches of extra room in the belly. She wrapped the excess fabric around her waste and held the coat shut.

“Amy, it’s 100 degrees outside.” She said not a word, and I decided to give her a break. It was the least I could do, what with everything I already put her through.

— W. Maxwell Prince

 * * *

The boy flipped through albums on his MP3 player, album art materializing and dissipating and titles drifting across the screen. Souls at Zero, Jane Doe, Roads to Judah. He selected none, and after a few minutes bussed the remains of his coffee to the ancient counter and left the shop. A freezing wind whistled down Guerrero Street. He walked north.

Earlier that morning a girl from Nebraska known only to the boy as Meg had ascended a metal ladder from the fifth floor to the roof of a warehouse in SOMA, not looking down even once towards the balcony and the rain-soaked street four stories below. In one corner of the roof stood a tent constructed of a blue tarp propped up by broomsticks lashed to plastic buckets. Underneath, two hooded figures strummed acoustic guitars by the light of camp lanterns, encircled by more people sitting on the ground.

The boy reached Market Street and headed up Church towards Buena Vista Park. He wondered about Meg, and her fully nomadic existence and alien ways of survival. He wondered whether she existed as a closed-loop spiritual end, as something so beautiful as to be a priori essential to the universe; as fate collapsed inwards upon itself. He touched the metal cylinder in his coat pocket. He wondered whether he’d ever see her again and guessed that he would not.

Meg squeezed into an open spot on the ground between two long-haired girls, just out of the rain. One of the guitar players turned as Meg settled down and a hairy snout poked into view from under its hood, and then its entire face was lit by lantern light. Large eyes flashed like the eyes of cats.

The boy reached the stone stairway at Buena Vista and ascended in a hurry. He jogged up a winding trail and soon reached the top of the park, a flat clearing with huge fallen trees and long views of the city and distant hills. No one was around. He knelt down in the dirt, unscrewed the cap of his brass cylinder and poured a line of red powder into a groove of bark on a fallen tree trunk. He began to screw the cap back on when the ground quicksanded beneath him, and he reached out desperately with both hands but he had already fallen too far down below the surface of the hill.

— Nate East

* * *

Then what did it mean? she said. Mean? If she didn’t want anything but to fuck you, what did it mean? It meant she liked to fucked me, I said, And I liked to fuck her. I see, she said, So “fuck you” is the right way to put it. It wasn’t sex. Forget “making love.” It still took both of us, I said. I didn’t tell her that she’d actually said, I like to fuck you, but—that there was an aspect of dislike. But she probably knew this. I didn’t tell her that what the other had said was what I’d thought countless times before and since. I wondered if she knew that too.

I said, You know, candor is good. We were honest with each other. She said, It must have been meaningless. Just different, I said. Any animal can do it. Don’t reduce it, I said, Reduce us. She said, You’ve already done so. Then she did some imagining: So let me get this right, you’d just meet up and fuck. No talking, no dates, no romance, no nothing. I didn’t protest, though I would have probably used different words. I wanted to say, We were friends too, but that hadn’t lasted long.

She tried to be understanding: I get the appeal of it, I do. Two people who realize that they enjoying fucking one another, but otherwise are incompatible, they should be able to have a relationship based solely on what they enjoy. Fucking is natural. I’ll say it again: any creature can do it, and will. Baby, I’m only being scientific. But I do worry; it’d be dishonest to say I don’t. I worry because the physical act doesn’t vary like circumstance. You can love someone or hate them, but you’ll be doing mostly the same things. I worry that you’ll confuse yourself, and not know it—that the physical will bleed into other realms.

During all this, we were in bed, touching each other aimlessly. Now I did what I do when I can no longer bear aimlessness. I touched her there in that way, and she arched. She touched me back. Soon, everything else would recede to the background, and what followed would be great. I knew—know—these things, but cannot speak them. I fear, more than anything, that this will always be true.

— Owen Neace

 * * *

Sunday night, and I’m sitting on a boy’s futon. I’m in my panties, his T-shirt. We’ve been sleeping together for a few days.

“So are we seeing each other?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Are we a thing?”

This is the language of sex outside of relationships. There are things you want and don’t want, you know? So you start to draw lines: not dating. Not lovers. It becomes a game of semantics to describe what’s going on.

That night we decided that we weren’t dating, were kind of seeing each other, and maybe a thing. A few weeks later, we freaked out and decided to . . . not be a thing. To be nothing.

I freely admit to having cried, then—I’d wanted that something. Whatever it was. The change of phrase hurt, even though it was only words.

What’s the difference between something and nothing? It’s loving and not loving. Feeling or not feeling. And often the fear of feeling is very real: We’re not ready for love. We wrap this fear in the words we use to describe ourselves. We create a language of not loving.

During that thing that was not a thing, I did a lot of—well, stupid things. One of the first was giving him a potted plant. A succulent jade: small, sweet, bright green. I’d caught a friend of my roommate’s using the poor plant as an ashtray, and couldn’t let it live in such conditions.

“Do you want to adopt a potted plant?” I asked him. “Just for a bit. It needs a foster home, my room’s too dangerous an environment.”

“Of course,” he said.

I brought it over later that day. We explored our benefits and were not anything. It’s lived on his nightstand ever since.

That relationship went through a lot—something to nothing, sleeping together and not sleeping together. And with every change, different words. “Hang out.” “Booty call.” “Friends with benefits.”

Once, I asked for him to return the plant.

“I thought it was a gift!” he said. “I thought it was for forever.”

“It wasn’t for forever,” I protested. “I said adoption, I said just for a bit.”

“Yeah, well, this is an issue of semantics.”

“Just like us, huh.”

We may or may have not slept together that night.

I’m still waiting to get that plant back.

— Larissa Pham

***

Rumpus Original Art by Jason Novak.