Mutual Benefits – Chapter 17

It was good to have a break from the drama. I didn’t know if it was because Milo finally eased up or if it just needed time, but I was just happy to see the group was doing alright, and doubly happy to see I could actually exist in the group without causing a schism or something.

Morgan clung to my arm, sunglasses and grin donned. We both watched as Lexi, Milo and Taylor all rode the roller coaster. I gulped nervously even watching it. I had never gone to a theme park in my life, and it was a cool experience being here, but I was glad I was only watching what was going on.

Morgan giggled next to me. “Scared?”

“Terrified,” I honestly replied, eyes glued to the roller coaster.

She laughed again. “It’s not so bad. The first time you ride it, it feels like everything is going haywire, but then you kind of get addicted to the thrill of it. It’s kind of like relationships.”

I smirked. “Oh yeah? Then why don’t I feel like things are going haywire with you?”

She smirked back. “Because all three people that have made it haywire are on that coaster, and you and I are over here.” We laughed and I gave her a quick kiss. “But seriously, at least go on some of the rides. It’s only polite.”

“I know it’s kiddie stuff, but, genuinely, can I start with the Merry-Go-Round or something?” I asked nervously. “My only experience with this stuff is Roller Coaster Tycoon.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s an economy-based simulation game where you have to-”

“So it’s a video game,” she told me with a giggle and kissed my cheek. 

I pouted. “Yes, it’s a video game,” I mumbled. “You’re doing the thing again.”

“What thing?”

“The interrupting thing.”

“Oh, right, sorry.” She let go of my arm, seeing Crystal coming back from the washroom. “Hey!” she called out, waving to her, face back to stern and leader-y. “The others went on Flashback.”

“Of course they did,” Crystal mumbled, then looked at me and smiled. “What’s wrong, holding out for the Carousel?”

“Yes. Actually yes,” I immediately replied.

“No fun, Quinn. C’mon, Taylor sprung for your ticket! Live a little!” Crystal protested.

Morgan turned pink as I whipped my head to look at her. “Taylor sprung f-”

“If you make a big deal about this, I swear to God…” she mumbled, still pink, half-joking and half-serious.

“But why would sh-”

“Quinn, not every ‘why,’” she reminded me. “Just see it as a peace offering. Please?”

I could feel my breathing quicken, and realized she was totally right. I nodded, just adding this to the list of ‘things that totally didn’t make sense that I would figure out later.’ The pile was getting annoyingly large.

A short time later, the trio returned. Taylor and Milo were laughing to themselves, and Lexi looked like a lil’ ball of electricity.

“I am on fucking fire! Hyaaa!” she exclaimed to the heavens, rooting herself in a power stance. “Holy fucking shit, that was good.”

“Hey Lexi,” I began, unable to stop myself. “Thank goodness you barely qualified as tall enough to ride, huh?” I gestured to the sign, which asked ride-goers to be at least four feet tall.

Lexi lunged at me, hitting me with her little yet powerful fists, with me defending myself but laughing along the way. The other girls and Milo largely rolled their eyes, not really enjoying the short joke. I figured, if nothing else, Kevin would enjoy the story later.

“Alright, alright,” Morgan eventually cut in, separating Lexi from me. “I’ll finish the job later for you.”

“I’d like to see you try,” I replied with a wink in her direction. 

“Gross,” Milo laughed. “So, what’s next?”

“Pandemonium!” Lexi cheered, now completely disconnected from the moment that just happened. “I wanna ride this high until I puke!”

“Remind me why I’m your friend again,” Taylor mock-scoffed.

“Sorry that I’m having fun?” Lexi asked facetiously in a charged voice. “C’mon! Pandemoooniummm~!” With that, she ran off towards the next roller coaster.

“So like, who’s been giving Lexi sugar?” Taylor jokingly asked.

“This happens every time,” Crystal said, mostly to me. “Give her an hour after she rides her first roller coaster of the season and she’ll calm down and be like the rest of us again.”

“I could do Pandemonium with her,” Taylor reasoned. “Like, if she’s going, might as well. Who’s with me?”

“Sure!” Milo piped up.

“I’m in,” Crystal replied.

“Yeah.”

The group turned to look at me, but I chose to look at Taylor. I shrugged and replied, “M-might as well rip the band-aid off, right? I’ll do it.”

Taylor gave a soft giggle and a small smile formed on her face. “Alright, awesome,” she said, more in a quiet murmur than anything.

“Are you sure?” Morgan asked, grabbing my hand and squeezing it. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

I eyed the orange and green coaster. Truthfully, it didn’t look as bad as a lot of the others. Still, even lookin at it made me nervous. “Yeah,” I mumbled. “I mean, I’m here now.”

The group seemed excited that I wanted to try it, which made sense; they were making ‘wet blanket’ jokes about me since we arrived. Plus, I probably looked scared, and waiting in line watching the coaster and its spinning carts did not help a bit.

I breathed deeply as a ride worker lowered the T-bar. I ended up sitting next to Morgan with two strangers opposite us – Taylor, Crystal, Lexi and Milo all got in the cart before us. Morgan grabbed my hand and held it, smiling supportively at me.

I smiled guiltily. “I’m not a baby,” I defended myself.

Her expression turned blank. “You’re not a baby,” she acknowledged with a nod. “Did you want me not to hold your hand?”

“I, uh… sure, keep holding it,” I chuckled nervously as the ride began. Even though nothing had happened and we were slowly going up, I sucked in my breath. The cart already began tilting. We were going higher and higher, higher than I thought even when looking at the ride. Morgan squeezed my hand.

The first time the cart fell, my heart fell with it. I exhaled, feeling like death was taking me. I squeezed my eyes shut and felt the wind blowing, hearing Morgan squeal next to me, along with the other two strangers. As soon as I felt things normalize, I opened my eyes, just in time to see another precipitous drop within meters of us.

My breathing quickened. I squeezed Morgan’s hand, and my brain went on autopilot. “I love you,” I told her with urgency, staring straight forward.

As we dropped, the cart rolled and tilted from side to side. Both Morgan and I had to break our hands away to grab the T-bar to stabilize ourselves, but the other two in our cart just leaned with it, laughing like adrenaline junkies. I felt like I was riding the sky itself, like I was an unwilling action movie hero or something. It was wild, it was crazy, and it was fun, but a very dangerous kind of fun. 

When the cart finally slowed, I tried to stabilize my breathing and finally looked at Morgan. She was already looking at me, with the hugest grin I’d seen on her face yet.

“Your eyes are all misty,” was all she said to me.

“Was what I said okay?” I asked in a low voice.

“That’s such a dumb question,” she told me, never losing the smile. Sheepishly, I smiled back.

***

Hanging out with Lexi was fun, but it came with a big caveat. Lexi was the average boy’s dream: she wanted one thing and one thing only.

“Lexi, I told you, I’m not ready for that yet,” I said firmly. 

Lexi pouted. “But summer is like halfway over! Then you’re leaving for college, and then we won’t get to see each other, and it’ll be, like, a summer wasted!”

“What makes it wasted, Lexi?” I asked, my eyes gleaming.

“Fuck off,” she replied bitterly. I could only laugh. “Fine. Want to go to, like, Starbucks or something?”

“I’m trying to save money, actually,” I replied. I was amazed how often these girls went out and just bought stuff as a social activity. “I can go, but I won’t be buying anything.”

“Then what’s the point?” she practically squawked. “I don’t wanna, like, just drag you somewhere just so I can buy something and then we go home.”

I grinned at her. “Sounds like we’re not going out then,” I pointed out. 

I dodged the aptly-named throw pillow chucked at my head. “Well, what do you do with-” I dodged another pillow. “…friends when you’re not going out to the store with them or having sex with them?”

Lexi paused, third throw pillow in hand, and thought for a second. “Wanna watch a movie?” she finally offered.

I snatched the third pillow from her hand and booped her on the head. “Sure,” I teased.

“You’re mean,” she replied, rubbing her head.

“You threw it at me first! Twice,” I retorted. “What did you wanna watch?” I hopped up and grabbed the remote in time to feel her hug me from behind. I chuckled. “Hey there.”

“Hi,” she simply said, hugging me more tightly. 

The two of us went back to the couch and flipped through a few movies, eventually settling on some inoffensive action flick. Lexi’s eyes sparkled and she grabbed whatever was closest to her whenever the action reached its peak. Whenever the action got good, I turned to watch her instead, and lightly chuckled when she clutched at the armrest with her mouth in the ‘o’ shape.

Eventually she got wise to me. “What?” she asked, pouting. “The movie is over there.”

“You’re more fun to watch,” I replied, smiling.

She looked at me for a bit, then eventually smiled back, and scooted over to me. I laid back and she lay against me as we continued to watch the movie.

It was really nice, and the best part of all, it didn’t have to be sexual. It was like a close form of friendship, where we didn’t need to worry about sex or performing for one another or expectations…

Or so I thought. After a few minutes of watching the movie, I felt Lexi start to shift and squirm. At first I thought she was trying to get herself comfortable, but before long I felt an unmistakable presence rubbing up against the front of my pants.

I swallowed. I wish I wasn’t this easy, but feeling her neediness even with the clothes between us made me embarrassingly hard embarrassingly quickly. Still, I did my best to maintain my composure. “Having fun?” I breathed.

She didn’t reply, but didn’t stop her motions.

I chuckled. “Trying to play it cool, huh?”

“Hey Quinn, do you mind?” she asked with mock annoyance. “I’m trying to watch.”

I laughed silently, enjoying how Lexi was never not Lexi. “Okay, sorry,” I practically whispered, then decided that if Lexi was going to torment me, I may as well torment her back. I grabbed her shoulder and began to thrust myself against her. She may have loved playing it cool, but she gave a sharp exhale the first time I thrust against her, and around the fifth, I clearly heard her whimper.

I did this a few times before deciding I had my fun, and plus, poor Lexi probably couldn’t take any more. As well, I was a person with urges too, and I just shut Lexi down. The last thing I needed was to make her believe it was this easy to change my mind. Confident that I’d fucked with her enough, I released her shoulder from my grip and pulled my hips back. She merely responded by pulling her hips back with me.

I ran my tongue over my teeth. On some level, this was my fault. Once she was confident I wasn’t pulling back any more, she resumed moving her hips around on my dick until I could help but emit a whimper of my own, which I tried to masquerade as a masculine grunt. When she heard, Lexi looked at me and smirked, but didn’t say anything and turned back.

I sighed and rolled my eyes, still feeling Lexi work her ass against me. Morgan had done a good job to improve my stamina, but if anything I was average at best at this point; I had to push Lexi off. Unfortunately, my brain didn’t get the meo, and what started as ‘pushing her butt off of me’ became ‘grab her butt and uhhhhhhhhh yeah.’

I was frankly surprised Lexi had a hard time with guys. Her passion was practically contagious. Once it registered that I was groping her instead of pushing her away, she pushed her butt back into my hands, arching her back and biting her lip. Even from behind, seeing the side of her face awash with ecstasy made me want nothing more than to continue.

I couldn’t resist dragging my finger across her slit, reaching between her legs. She responded in kind, opening her legs and openly moaning at this point. We weren’t pretending any more. Neither one of us was too cool for what we were doing. Neither one of us was teasing. We just wanted each other.

Lexi turned her head back to look at me, her face looking like she was almost in fear. “Please,” she breathed.

I was probably blushing from the desire I was feeling. Getting to touch her after several minutes of her grinding up against me would do that to any guy. I could feel my chest rising and falling with my breaths. Even so, I said nothing.

“Either stop it r-right now or do it,” she said in a voice above a whisper, breaking eye contact with me. I chewed on her words, refusing to stop what I was presently doing to her body. I didn’t want to stop groping her. She riled me up, and now I wanted release. Whether it was a bad idea didn’t even enter my mind; I was too far gone. I just wanted it. I never thought about anything else.

Forcefully, I grabbed her leggings and yanked them down, earning a yelp from her. Lexi blushed deeply, despite me having seen her panties a good five or six times now. But never in this context, and we both knew that.

“Condom,” I breathed, an order rather than a request.

“Yeah,” she immediately replied, attempting to get up and tripping. She fell on the ground, ditching the leggings and nearly running to her handbag. She rifled through it, bending over and giving me another view, then retrieved a condom. Upon seeing it, I immediately started to ditch my pants, too horny to think about whether this was a good idea or not. Lexi wanted it this badly, and she was going to rile me up this much, so she was going to get what she wanted, and what she deserved. 

Lexi had seen my dick only twice before, once to just look at it (although that ended in a handjob), once to blow me. And yet, when it came into view, she bit her lip again. She handed the condom to me and waited there nervously. I started to tear open the packaging until I saw she was just standing there, and hesitated.

“Where do you want me?” she breathed.

“Where you were before,” I ordered, gesturing next to me.

“Okay,” she said timidly, working her panties off as I stood up and applied the condom. She knelt on the couch, looking behind her, as I angled myself up to her.

“Are you ready for this?” I asked.

“Quinn, for fu-”

Answer me.”

She shivered. “Yes. Please,” she begged with a new voice.

“Good girl,” I replied, my voice surprisingly smooth for how nervous I was.

“Oh fuck,” she instinctively graoned, though I didn’t know that was from what I said or my fingers running along her slit. She was wet, eager, and ready for me. I lined myself up, and couldn’t contain my own moan when I slid inside her, being inside Lexi for the first time.

“Oh fuck yes, give it to me Quinn, fuuuuck I’ve been wanting this, hurry up, fuck me…” Lexi started babbling. My brain was on autopilot. Reaching forward, I grabbed her hair and yanked it, leaning forward so that my mouth was next to her ear. “Stop talking,” I warned her.

She breathed hard, but didn’t say anything. I came back down to Earth a little, and added, “Is this okay?”

“Yeah,” she panted. She was practically shivering, but from what I could see, she wasn’t uncomfortable.

“Do you want me to fuck you? Only say ‘yes or ‘no,’” I commanded.

“Yes,” she said, just above a whisper.

I released her hair and straightened my back, beginning to push my hips back and forth. Both of my hands grabbed Lexi’s butt, gripping them with a force that let her know I wasn’t playing around. Once She’d become accustomed to my full length inside her, I began to slam myself inside her, over and over again, earning the sweet melodies of Lexi’s grunts and groans.

“Hoooly fuuuuck…” she groaned. “It’s b-been too f-fuckin’ long…”

I thrust myself to the hilt inside of her and ground my hips against her before resuming my thrusts. My dick slid in and out of her, over and over, with her wetness even apparent through sound. I didn’t just have to feel it – Lexi sounded especially wet.

“You feel so good, Lexi,” I groaned.

“T-told you that it would be a summer wasted without getting to f-fuck me,” she groaned. “We n-need to do this more o-often…”

She was insatiable. “Maybe we do,” I groaned, keeping up the pace. Lexi’s moans rang through the thankfully empty house as I continued to slam my hips into hers, realizing that there was no way I was going to be able to pretend I wouldn’t want this again.

***

“So, I finally beat the final boss in Bloodborne,” Kevin bragged as we tidied up the kitchen together.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “Which one would that be?”

Kevin gave me a confused look. “Um, wouldn’t you know?” he asked. “Mergo’s Wet Nurse. Obviously.”

“Oh. Interesting!” I replied, unable to hide my smirk. “That one.”

“…Are there more?” Kevin asked. “Are there more?!

I laughed, saying nothing but continuing to sweep the floors. I heard someone buzz our place, and ignored it as Mother went to talk to the person. 

“Who is it?” she barked. 

“Um, hi, does Quinn Shen live there?” I heard a feminine voice ask. I immediately looked up from the floor. That wasn’t Morgan’s voice. It was… Taylor’s. 

Mother couldn’t parse the difference, of course. All white girls sounded the same to her. “Ah, girlfriend,” she replied disinterestedly, then buzzed her in. 

Poor Taylor was probably so confused. I looked at Kevin, who was still wiping the counters. He either didn’t listen or thought it was Morgan too. Realizing just how weird the situation could get, I whipped out my phone, setting the broom against the counter.

“Quinn!” Mother barked. “The floors are not swept. You can not hang out with your girlfriend or message text your friends until the floors are swept!”

“I’m trying to – Mother, I’m trying to-” I tried to say, but she spoke over me.

“Pick up the broom and finish! You are almost done!” she said as if it were obvious. “No phone. You can use your phone after you finish sweeping!” She made a ‘get to it’ motion with her hands, letting me know she was serious. 

I sighed, picking up the broom and sweeping with great urgency as Mother turned away, mumbling, “honestly, tsk tsk…”

This was going to be interesting. I knew for a fact that Taylor would reach this place before I finished, but I could still work with hope. I managed to quickly sweep the floors and get the dust in the bin, then quickly whipped my phone out of my pocket…

Just in time to hear a knock on the door. “I’ll get it!” Kevin offered.

“You will not,” I replied immediately, pointing a finger at him.

Kevin gave me a weird look as Mother, oblivious to her kids, opened the door to reveal Taylor Wise.

“Oh. You are not the girlfriend. Who are you?” she asked plainly. 

“Taylor?!” Kevin asked incredulously.

“Yeah, um, hi, I’m Taylor, Taylor Wise. I’m a friend of Quinn’s…” she trailed off shyly. “Hi Kevin.”

“Taylor… Ah, yes! Quinn’s not-girlfriend!” Mother replied with enthusiasm, picking up Nuo so she couldn’t squeeze past Taylor. “Yes yes, come in.”

She paused and gave Mother a confused look before continuing. “Well, actually, I was just wondering if maybe I could talk to Quinn in private about something…” She looked at me. “Sorry. I would have texted, but, like… yeah. Just kinda decided in the moment.”

“Could I hear about it?” Kevin asked, no doubt clueless as to what was going on but wanting in.

“Kevin,” I chided.

“Oh, right,” he replied. He cleared his throat. “Can I help?” he rephrased.

Taylor gave that confused smile-laugh popular girls gave when they were flattered but uncomfortable. “No, it’s okay Kevin, but, uh, thanks?” she offered.

“I get it. Context-specific,” he replied, touching his nose twice. “Alright, I’ll butt out, but, uh, Tay, if I can call you Tay, if you ever need a guy on your side, I’m there.” He went back to wiping the countertops. “Just wanted to say that. School was school, but, you’re alright. You’re cool.”

Taylor’s look was now just a smile. “Uh, thanks, Kevin. You’re cool too,” she slowly said. She turned to me and asked, “So like, can I come in?”

I looked towards my room. “Ironically, we might have more privacy outside,” I told her. “No offense, Kev.”

“I get it, I get it,” he replied from behind me.

“Uh, sure, yeah,” Taylor mumbled, already moving out of the apartment. “Sorry again.”

I walked out with her and shut the door behind me. “No, no, it’s cool, we seem… cool, yeah?”

She gave a soft chuckle. “Yes Quinn, we’re cool.”

“Okay,” I replied. Both of us got in the elevator and I pressed the button. When the doors closed, I couldn’t resist. “Is there some kind of… trouble?”

“No, but, like, why did your mom call me your ‘not-girlfriend?’”

“Oh.” I turned pink. “Um, so, English isn’t her first language, and she gets confused about names and what they mean in English, since in Chinese, we have a system called, uh, wǒ shì piànzi, which is like who people aren’t as opposed to who they are…”

“Oh. Okay,” she replied, thankfully buying it. “Yeah, no trouble, I just wanted to talk. As friends.”

“As friends,” I repeated, the elevator door opening. “Okay.” We began to walk out, and I gestured towards the front of the building. “There’s a bench outside if you want. How private exactly does this need to be?”

“Um…” she trailed off. “I guess, like, not that private. Sure, a bench can work.”

“Thanks, by the way,” I awkwardly added. It was like the entire last four-to-five months were erased whenever I talked to her, like I was just a lowly nerd that didn’t know how to talk again.

“Thanks?” she replied inquisitively. “For what?”

“The ticket. It, uh, w-was really nice of you.”

She flashed me a smile. “Oh, you’re welcome,” she warmly said. “I mean, it seemed like it would be fun for you to come along. I’m glad you did.” She let a pause float between us. “I bet Morgan was glad too.”

We sat down on the bench. “I meant to ask, why wasn’t Joel there? I mean, if I was there because I was Morgan’s boyfriend, why wasn’t your boyfriend there?”

Taylor winced, like she was in pain. “Ouch,” she simply said.

“What?”

“So, uh, I came here to tell you that me and Joel broke up.”

“Oh. Oh, no. I’m really sorry, Taylor.”

She sighed, looking away. “Yeah, like, I’m sorry too,” she replied shakily. “It’s probably dumb because… because of everything you heard and saw, but… it still hurts.”

“Y-yeah,” I replied awkwardly, not knowing what to say. I did get it. When Taylor was refusing to talk to me, it hurt too, kind of like a breakup. It felt like I didn’t want her gone, even if it was right after I discovered all of the stuff Taylor did. The bad stuff. 

She turned back to me. “Couldn’t you figure it out?” She gave me a weak smile. “Gifted kid.”

“No, I haven’t even talked to him since that one house party, the one where Morgan and I… you know.”

“Yeah, I remember,” she softly replied. “Uh, congrats.”

“Well, I mean, we did talk afterwards about it…” I trailed off.

She gave me a confused expression. “Uh, no we didn’t…” she replied in a weirded out tone.

My face slightly scrunched up as I remembered that it was a fucking dream. “Oh, uh, I’m thinking of something else,” I lied. “Anyway, I didn’t talk to him. For a while, I was, uh… I was… too s-scared to talk to you.”

“Too scared, huh?” she asked.

“Let’s… not. This should be about you. Anyway, there was no way I could have known.”

“You went to Beach Day, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Um, yeah, but guys were separated from girls. I never even saw you two talk. I guess that would be weird in other situations, but…”

“Quinn, what happens on Beach Day?”

It was my turn to give her a weird look. “Um, people go to the beach. During the day.”

“What kinds of traditions happen on Beach Day, Quinn?”

My confused look intensified until what she was saying clicked. Any couple that was still together by beach day went to the change rooms together. Morgan and I were the only ones that were prompted. “Oh…” I practically moaned in realization. 

“Yup,” she replied sadly.

“B-but, he drove you! And nothing was wrong!”

“Nothing seemed wrong,” she corrected me. “We weren’t, like, doing great, but we were still together by the time he arrived. And by the time we left… fuckin’ nope.” She let out a sigh.

“Then why did Abby tease Morgan but not you?”

“Honestly? Abby was probably the one that convinced him to fuckin’ end it,” she replied, her tone clearly reflecting what she thought of Abby. “I’m actually kinda relieved we didn’t have to do it, but still, what a fuckin’… what a fuckin’ insult.”

“I’m sorry, Taylor,” I replied slowly. 

She gave another sigh. A shorter one, the kind you give to hold back tears. “Yeah,” she eventually replied. “I dunno why I stayed with him so long. I just… wanted him to care. I wanted him to care so bad that I thought that, like, if I stayed, maybe he’d start.” She looked at me. “You know? Like, if he spent enough time around me, maybe he would start to want to care. Like I mattered more because I was at least around for more of his life or something. I bet Abby just wanted him for herself.”

“I don’t think we can pin this one one person other than Joel himself,” I thought out loud.

She stared daggers at me. “Quinn, you knew, like, nothing about their situation. You met Abby on Beach Day. You don’t get to talk down to me for how I see her.”

I chewed on my lip. “Okay, yeah, that’s fair,” I conceded. “So, how can I help this? I mean, you break up, and you want to see me?”

“I just wanted us to, like, talk this over. As friends, I dunno,” she replied.

“Uh…” I didn’t know how to reply further.

“What?” she asked. 

“I don’t know how to reply to that without getting you angry,” I uneasily replied.

“Wait, say it.”

“No,” I asserted. “Seeing you angry is scary, and I don’t want to experience that again.”

“Well, even saying what you said made me kind of upset, so like, may as well say the whole thing,” she replied.

I sighed. This had better not turn into drama. “Well, when we first started talking, like, more than tutoring, it nearly instantly became sexual, even while you were in a relationship, and then after things boiled over, I felt like you… dropped me. Like anything aside from sexual stuff wasn’t important to you. I felt disposable, and I kind of felt hurt and abandoned when you stopped talking to me. There wasn’t really much of a friendship there to begin with.”

“I-!” Taylor began, and I instinctively moved back on the bench and winced.

Her face didn’t change from her angry expression, but she paused. “You look like I’m about to eat your face or something,” she said with an even tone, keeping her angry expression.

“I like having my face,” I feebly replied.

She softened her face and closed her eyes, keeping them closed. “I’m disappointed that you choose to see it that way,” she said slowly. “We both made mistakes, didn’t we? Your story seems to be all about mine.”

“…What’s your story?” I asked.

She opened her eyes. “We got too into things together and I did what had to be done to make sure everything didn’t, like, explode. And yeah, it meant cutting you off for a bit. But I’m here now. I, like, bought your ticket, didn’t I?”

“Don’t bring up buying something I didn’t ask you to buy like you’re holding it over me, that’s not fair,” I protested, albeit with a weak voice.

She looked at me for a bit. “I didn’t come here to argue with you,” she said finally. “Shit happened but I’m here now. I’m your… I want to say I’m your friend. Okay?”

I stayed silent. “What, do you not trust me or something?” she asked.

“I mean…”

A beat of silence passed between us. “What do you think is the, like, worst thing that could happen if you say ‘okay, Taylor, you’re my friend?’ I mean, according to your worldview, a popular girl like me couldn’t want to be your friend anyway.”

Despite the dig, I smiled. “It turns out things are a bit more complicated than that,” I gingerly admitted. “Popular and not weren’t just binary values. Who knew?”

“I did, dummy,” she replied with her own smile. “I mean, I don’t know what ‘binary’ is, but like, yeah, of course it’s not that simple.”

“Well, you’re right. And I’m glad you are. I couldn’t be with Morgan if the world was how I thought it was.”

“Yeah, with Morgan…” she slowly repeated. “Can I ask, what’s the deal with you and Lexi?”

I played it cool. “What do you mean?” I asked with faux confusion.

“Why are you fucking her if you’re with Morgan?” Taylor asked point-blank. 

My facial expression definitely gave me away. I opened my mouth to speak, but chewed on my words a little longer. I ran my tongue over my teeth and opened my mouth again. “It just came up, and it came up from Morgan first. I’m, uh, bad at saying no, and I think I have an impulse-control problem.”

“Can I get a definition?” she asked.

“I’m bad at holding back. I like sex, Lexi’s fun, so even though a part of me doesn’t want it, I just… y’know, end up doing it.”

“Wow,” Taylor replied, both impressed and disappointed in my response. “Thank fuck you’re in an open relationship. I mean, like, I guess you’re like most guys, but at least most guys lie to themselves about it.”

“Hey, truth be told, I kind of want to close it. I know Morgan is open, but a part of me feels wrong doing it. I keep doing it anyway, which is another reason I just don’t want my girlfriend giving me the option, you know?”

Taylor slowly gave me a smile. “You know what? Good for you, Quinn,” she said. “I’m sorry I keep, like, putting pressure on you or whatever.” A beat of silence passed. “I’m, uh, sorry for a lot of stuff I do.”

“Huh?”

“I’m just… sorry. I feel like if I was better, a lot of this shit wouldn’t have happened.”

“Come on, Taylor, don’t give me that,” I replied. “I agree, it wouldn’t have. And I would have just been the same loser wishing he could start living his life.”

She looked away, off towards the sky, and looked back. When she looked back, her eyes were misty. “I feel like I hurt people a lot, Quinn,” she told me quietly. “I feel like I don’t know how to give people what they need.”

Taylor came over here talking about how she was broken up with and I still made it about me. I felt like slapping myself. I grabbed her hand in both of mine and looked intently at her. “Taylor, I’m sorry too. I’m being selfish. I’m sorry you’re hurting, and if Joel can’t see what a good person you are, well, that’s his loss.”

Her eyes just welled up more. “If I’m a good person, why can’t you even accept me as your friend?” she asked, hurt.

The spell was broken and I looked away. Damn, I really double-talked there, and she had me. Turning back, I hesitated. “Because… we had our own troubles. I’m sorry, I keep getting wrapped up in my own mind. You need a friend right now. You need a friend. I was just being defensive, like always. Of course I’ll be your friend, Taylor. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t want to be my friend, Quinn,” she replied sadly.

“I don’t… want drama, that’s all,” I replied, searching myself for the best words. “Like I said, defensive. This kind of stuff never happened to me before. I’m worried more stuff will blow up in my face.”

“So do you want me to… what? Be your friend, be, like, a background character, have sex with you, leave you alone…?”

“I think I just want… fuck, I don’t know. I just wish some stuff we did never happened.”

I caught her hurt expression and added, “I’m bad with words. I’m glad I met you, Taylor. I’m sorry, I’m clearly making this worse.”

“No, no,” she replied. “This clearly has, like, been a long time coming, hasn’t it?”

“I guess,” I replied uneasily.

“Maybe words aren’t what we need right now,” she added.

I looked at her but said nothing. She looked at me, then scooted her butt over next to mine and slowly rested her head on my shoulder.

“Um, what…?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” she replied calmly. “This is a thing friends do.”

“…Okay,” I admitted, then leaned my head against hers. Eventually, my arm was around her shoulder. Minutes went by. At one point, Taylor started crying, and turned into my shoulder. I let her cry and supportively rubbed her back as she got the tears out. Once the tears were out, she resumed her place with her head on my shoulder.

She tried to say something, but after the cry, it got stuck in her throat. She cleared her throat and said, “Fuck Joel.”

“Fuck Joel,” I repeated. “You deserve better.”

“You deserve better than the shit I put you through too,” she said sadly.

I turned to her and smiled. “I guess that makes us even with the stuff I did.”

She smiled back, even if her smile told me she didn’t believe me.

“I kept obsessing over whether people deserved to stay together or be friends or whatever,” I thought out loud. “I’m bad at just thinking about what I want instead of what I deserve, or ‘should do,’ or something.”

“I think I have the opposite problem,” Taylor admitted, looking up at me, her head still on my shoulder.

“We’re a good match,” I admitted, smiling at her, her eyes inches from mine. Out of nowhere, as if to punctuate what I said, I leaned my head down and kissed her forehead.

We both reacted instantly, giving each other a look. I knew the look I was giving her: shock and fear. I had no clue why I just did that, and I felt like I couldn’t move another inch. Taylor didn’t react with disgust, or even anything negative, more like a weird curiosity. 

“That’s not really something friends do…” she murmured, not moving from her place on my shoulder. 

“I know, I’m really sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking,” I blurted out.

Taylor let me finish, then shook her head gently. “No no, don’t worry. I’m, uh, not saying it’s not okay,” she softly replied. “I liked it,” she quietly added.

“We shouldn’t have done it,” I admitted uneasily.

“Why not?” she asked. “I’m single, and you’re allowed to have sex with other girls.”

“Other girls in the friend group,” I corrected her.

She looked up at me and smiled. “I’m in the friend group,” she reminded me. “And, like… it’s nice to feel wanted.”

I stared at her, and could feel an uneasy smile slowly grow on my face. Before I knew it, Taylor had wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me on the lips. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it was definitely one of those. My eyes were closing on my own. It felt good.

“We definitely suck at this whole ‘no sex, just being friends’ thing,” I joked breathily.

“We’re so bad at it,” Taylor agreed with a smile. “We definitely should, like, stop now though.”

“Yeah, we should,” I admitted, though we gave each other another kiss before we got up from the bench. “I will, uh, tell Morgan about this, just for the record.”

“It doesn’t sound like we broke any rules, Quinn,” she told me. 

“Yeah, but I’d never want to hide anything from my girlfriend,” I said. “This is new stuff and I never want her to feel betrayed.”

She shook her head slightly. “Not, like, throwing shade on Morgan, but she really doesn’t deserve you, you know that?”

Remembering earlier how I didn’t know enough about her Abby story, I decided to not interrogate that claim and just shrug. “Like I said, who cares about ‘deserve?’ I just know she and I both like each other.” I turned away, then turned back. “So, uh, what is this?” I gestured to the two of us.

It was her turn to shrug. “How about you talk to Morgan then we can see?” she asked, almost shyly. “I mean, if even Lexi is getting to-” She stopped, then thought about what she said, then faced me with a different expression. “If Morgan says okay, we can talk about what you want, and go from there,” she said, with a new tone. “I just want to, you know, make you feel good too.”

“You’re sweet,” I said with a slight laugh.

“I’m really not. But I want to be.” She smiled again. “I think you bring out the better in people, Quinn.”

“Are you going to be okay?” I asked.

“I mean, no?” she replied with a shrug. “That’s what breakups do. Give me time.”

I nodded solemnly, and reflected. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that once I went back inside, I’d regret what I did. But I was also weirdly excited by it. This could have been the start of something new, and it had been a while since I’d hoped for things to change and get more chaotic.

***

When I had told Morgan that I had full-on sex with Lexi only days before, Morgan reacted as if I told her that I got a good grade on a test or something. On the other hand, from the moment I had mentioned Taylor’s name today, the air noticeably changed.

“…Are you okay?” I asked after an uncomfortable silence. She didn’t reply. “I thought that since you had said the friend group was okay, and that Taylor only wasn’t okay because of the relationshi-”

“Stop talking please,” she calmly ordered with a plain face, the first thing she said since I told her about Taylor. “So, you kissed her.”

My heart sank. I knew she wouldn’t take it with a smile, but this was worrying. “Uh, yeah,” I replied nervously.

“Nothing beyond that?”

“Nothing,” I confirmed. 

“Who initiated it?” she asked.

“Um, does it matter?” 

“Yes.”

I stared at her silently. Clearly, either I was in trouble or Taylor was or something. In that moment I couldn’t even remember who initiated what, but I knew that I was sick of drama and, for whatever reason, wanted to protect Taylor.

“I did,” I replied, not even knowing if it was the truth. “I won’t do it again if-”

“Okay,” she simply replied. “I’d like some time alone to process this please.”

“…Um, hang on, no, I want to at least know if I’m in trouble or if I’ve hurt you or something,” I replied uneasily. “I don’t even know if I did anything wrong. Or, like, anything against your wishes.”

She looked away, and sighed. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I told you no, but I said it was because of the Joel thing. I should have just told you no.”

I paused. “So, did you misinform me, or did you yourself just not know it was another reason?”

Morgan looked at me with some kind of new look of sorrow I didn’t recognize. “Quinn, this is exhausting. Just, like, pick one, okay? I’m upset and want to process it. You’re fine. You’re a fucking angel if that makes you feel better, okay? Whatever you want to hear. Just please leave me alone right now.”

“I need to ask one more question,” I replied sternly.

I could see tears beginning to form in Morgan’s eyes. Her look was quickly turning to impatient anger. “Hurry.”

“Am I leaving the house or going to the living room? I want to stay but if you want me to leave…”

“Either. I won’t use the fact that you stayed against you if you stay. Get out of my room please,” she quietly but impatiently told me. I didn’t really want to leave, but reluctantly, I walked out and shut the door. As soon as I did, I heard an impact, like she hit the wall or something. Then came the sound of sobbing.

I stood there, like I was in a trance. Was I supposed to do something? Was I supposed to walk back in there and demand we talk? Was I supposed to give her space? I didn’t know, but clearly there was a right answer. And fuck me, I didn’t know what it was.

To my absolute delight, you could still hear the sounds of Morgan being upset even downstairs. And even though her parents were luckily not home, Doug was. As soon as I walked downstairs, he turned away from his game to look at me. He said nothing. I said nothing. Muffled sounds from Morgan’s room punctuated the silence.

I stood there, staring at him for a while. I went from expecting him to say something to hoping he’d say something, but he never did. Frustratingly, I couldn’t read a single emotion on his face. A fresh yell-sob from Morgan’s room made me shudder and realize something bad was happening. It was clear my overthinking and question-asking wasn’t welcome here – it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to go on a walk or something. I walked towards the door and reached for the handle.

“Did you break up with her?”

I hesitated, looking straight at the door. “No.”

“You walk out that door and she breaks up with you. Guaranteed.”

I turned to look at him. He had an indignant look on his face, as if it all didn’t matter. “Have you been here before?”

“I dunno, have I?” he asked plainly. “Whatever it was, uh, it must have ended real poorly, huh?”

I looked to the ground. “Same stuff we talked about a bit ago,” I confessed. 

“Told you she disliked it,” he simply said.

“It would have been nice if she told me she disliked it,” I shot back, resigning myself to the couch. “Does she do this often?”

“Nah. She, uh… bottles it up. Gotta go somewhere,” he explained as if this were natural. “It’s not often, but it’s there. She’ll calm down in a bit.”

“It breaks my heart to hear…” I trailed off, hearing a very muffled sound. At least they were getting quieter. “…That. Did I cause this?”

Doug gave me a weird look. “What, d’you think I bugged her room? I barely know what this is about.” He got up, going towards the kitchen. “You want a drink? I’m not just being polite this time. I really recommend it.”

“Being drunk when my girlfriend is distraught is going to help me?” I asked incredulously. “No, Doug. No.”

“Uh, yes, Doug, yes,” he countered. 

“I’ll pass!” I nearly shouted, pissed off. 

He made a show of shrugging, then walked off. I sulked on the couch, lowering my head and thinking. About Morgan, about Taylor… hell, about Lexi, Crystal, and Taylor. About Joel and Doug and Kev and Mother and even Bryce. My shirt was forever stretched by that guy. 

It all culminated to now. What a world. I heard Doug return and fire up a game but I didn’t even raise my head. I just tuned the noises out, worried that Taylor hadn’t told me something vital again. Maybe she and Joel never broke up. Maybe she made a deal with Morgan. Maybe… I had no clue.

It must have been at least ten full minutes after the noises from her room stopped when I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. I raised my head, seeing Morgan walk off towards the kitchen without even looking at me. I went to stand up, but felt Doug’s hand on my shoulder holding me down. I turned to him and he shook his head no.

I watched Morgan retrieve a bottle of something alcoholic from the kitchen and walk halfway up the stairs. She stopped and turned slowly to face me, tear marks down her face. “You can come to my room if you want,” she croaked, before disappearing.

I turned back to Doug, who had his eyes on the game. Sighing, I stood up, my feet feeling like they were made of clay, and walked back to Morgan’s room to see her on her bed, holding a bottle of vodka, mixing it in a red cup with something.

I looked around her room. I expected it to be trashed or something. “Your room is cleaner than it was when I left,” I observed. “I didn’t expect that.”

She shrugged, and I sat beside her. I started to loop my arm around her, then stopped. “Do you want my arm on your shoulder?”

“No,” she flatly replied. “Za zdorovie.” She downed whatever was in her cup. It probably wasn’t a good idea to continue this conversation drunk, but I was in no position to tell her what to do.

I sat in silence for a few more moments before I couldn’t resist opening my mouth. “Are we… not a couple anymore?”

“I dunno,” she emotionlessly said. 

“…Can I ask if you care?” I gingerly asked.

She turned slowly to face me. “I wish I didn’t care,” she said. “If I didn’t care so fucking much, I wouldn’t feel like this.” She took another drink and looked in disgust at her cup. “Ahh, fuck me.” She turned back to me. “I want to not care. When I was single, I didn’t care. Boys were stupid. I mostly only heard about drama, never really being in it.”

I processed what she said. “It doesn’t have to be drama, I’ll just not talk to Taylor again.”

“Would you seriously never talk to Taylor again if I asked you to?” Morgan challenged me.

“Yes,” I replied immediately, never hesitating.

She only showed sadness at my response. “That’s not a good thing,” she simply said. “No, Quinn. Talk to Taylor. Fuck, kiss her. Have sex with her if you want to. I gave you permission. It’s only fair.”

I had to laugh at the absurdity. “Morgan, just retract the permission! Hell, I’ve openly told you a part of me wants you to! Clearly it led to something bad here. We can get through this, I just want to be with you.”

“I don’t caaARE!” Morgan yelled to the wall, then immediately retracted back into herself. The room was dead silent, apart from Cheesecake running across his cage. “This part of me sucks, I know.”

“It’s… new,” I managed. “I’m dealing with it though. Is this where all of your emotions go?”

“No. Most of the time I just barely express. Comes with the ‘not caring’ thing.” She poured more vodka into her cup, looked around for something to mix it with, then I guess couldn’t find anything. She shrugged, took a small drink, and shivered. “It’s nice, until it isn’t.”

“I don’t know if you’re mad at me,” I said point-blank.

“I don’t know if I am either,” she replied immediately. 

“So then what are we doing here?” I asked her.

“I know I’m mad. And I know a lot of it is at myself.”

“But why? You didn’t do anything!” I protested.

At that, Morgan smiled. A big, smirky smile, too, like I just told a particularly clever joke. “Don’t make me talk about this right before this stuff hits me,” she said.

“Are you saying you did do something worth being mad at yourself for?” I asked. “We can work thro-”

“Shut up, okay? Just shut up. I’m mad at myself. No, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re getting more assertive than usual,” I mumbled.

“Assertive?”

“You’re getting bossier lately. You’re interrupting me more.”

“That’s actually probably part of being mad at myself,” she replied, almost to herself.

“But why? I was the one who – I mean, I thought I wasn’t, but I guess I went behind your back and did that.”

She looked at me for a bit. “I’ll work on the interrupting thing,” she said eventually. “Can you get a cup?”

I looked at her bottle. “Um, I-”

“Please, just – wait, shit, okay, interrupting.” It was clear the drinks were already taking an early effect. “Okay, say what you want.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Just trust me. If you still can. Get a cup, they’re over there.”

Hesitantly, I did what I was told, and she took the cup and carefully poured one or two drops into the cup. She handed it to me. “It won’t get you drunk,” she replied. “For me, try drinking it.”

“Why?”

“I can’t explain it before you do it.”

I paused, then brought the cup to my lips. Even with two drops inside, it smelled awful. Not really wanting to, I moved my head back and drank the two drops of vodka. They tasted like nothing and felt like pure fire in my mouth, and in my throat all the way down.

I retched, and looked back at Morgan to see her looking at me. “How was it?”

“I hated it. It burned.”

“Yeah,” she replied, nodding. “Some things just burn, Quinn.” Her eyes watered. “Some things just burn.”

“Huh?”

“Vodka doesn’t burn less the more you drink it,” she kept going. “Some people try to mask the taste, and other people just drink it despite how much it burns. And alcohol is, uh, it’s addictive, y’know. I kinda wonder sometimes if people addicted to it drink it despite the burning, or if, maybe, along the way, they get addicted to the burning itself too.”

“…What does this have to do with anything?” I asked. “I don’t get any of this.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda being deliberately mysterious here,” she replied calmly. “I know that if I tell you anything, you’ll ask more questions, and I’m not prepared to answer them.”

“So… something hurts, but you keep doing it,” I concluded. “Or, you’re an alcoholic, and this was your best way of telling me.”

Morgan dryly chuckled. “No. Well, I mean, maybe I am, but if I am, I don’t know it yet. Uh, yeah, first one. Yup.”

I could put two and two together. It crushed me knowing what she was getting at, but I guess I had to say it out loud. “Are you… cutting yourself?” I asked, feeling tears coming on.

Morgan looked at me with shock, then gave a kind of sad surprise-laugh which immediately evolved into a kiss. “No, oh my God, no, Quinn, no,” she immediately replied, holding my face in her hands. “No, I’m sorry.”

There was no better news on the planet. Despite my teary eyes, I smiled. “You kissed me,” I murmured. 

Morgan smiled sadly at me, and I returned her smile. We sat in silence for a bit, before I spoke up. “We’re not breaking up, are we?”

“No,” she replied. 

“So, you wish you didn’t care, because something hurts right now, but you can’t stop doing it,” I summarized. “And you don’t want to say what it is…” I paused. “…even though it sounds like a lot of stuff would be made easier if you said it.”

She started crying. Immediately, she set the bottle and cup down and put her face in her hands. I started rubbing her back, but I still hated this situation. “Morgan, are you terminally ill, do you have some kind of history with Taylor, what?! Please just tell me.”

She simply shook her head. I sighed. “Okay, new direction. Summarize how you feel about the whole situation in one sentence.”

Neither of us spoke for a while. Eventually, Morgan got the tears down enough so that she could speak. “I don’t get why you’re making this like English class,” she joked.

“I need something. This whole situation is making my head hurt. Give me some kind of takeaway, please.”

“I don’t want to lose you,” she said. “That’s my sentence. I deserve an A plus, I know.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Taylor will never replace you. No one will. I want you. I want only you. Morgan, I love you.”

When I said this, the tears only returned. I stared at her for a bit, not understanding at all what was going on. “Why are you so angry with me doing stuff with Taylor, but not Lexi?” I eventually asked. “What burns going down here?”

She looked at me. “Quinn, please don’t make me get into this when I’m tipsy,” she requested.

“Morgan, for the love of God, forbid me from having sex with your friends. Just make this a monogamous relationship.” She buried her head in her hands again. “If it’s going to make you like this, I just want something that can resolve this. Please! What about this is so hard?!”

“Why do you need me to tell you what to do?” she asked. 

“Because as long as it’s allowed, I’ll be tempted, and it hurts you so I want to stop,” I replied earnestly.

“Isn’t that good enough for you to make the choice on your own?” she asked.

It should have seemed like the most obvious point in the world to make, and yet, it only clicked right then and there for me. Her saying it was okay meant jack shit if I could see how it was affecting her. Of course I didn’t need anything more. 

“Okay,” I replied quietly. “But for the record, is what I did with Taylor today why you’re crying right now?”

Morgan hesitated. She didn’t say anything for the longest time. Finally, she raised her head… and, bafflingly, shook it no. 

“…Is what I did with Taylor today why you got angry?”

“…It’s the thing that made me lose my cool, like, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just wasn’t expecting it,” she answered.

“That’s not a yes or a no,” I observed.

“You’re correct, it’s not,” Morgan replied. 

So what, it was just a coincidence that telling her about Taylor set her off?? “Are we ever going to have a discussion about this mystery burning thing?!” I asked exasperatedly. 

“Hopefully,” she offered. “I want to. Just give me time, okay?”

“Okay. But in the meantime, I’m not going to do anything with any other girls. At all. Period.”

She didn’t seem to be affected by that. “If that’s what you want,” she offered.

Morgan was going to make me pull my hair out. Something was boiling over, and as usual, I was not allowed to know what for whatever reason. 

“I just don’t want to lose you,” she repeated, leaning over and hugging me. 

“I love you, Morgan,” I said softly. 

“I know. I love you too,” she replied.

“This does need to either stop or come out, though. It’s clearly hurting our relationship in the meantime,” I gently reminded her.

“I know, I’m working up to it,” she replied. “Can you stay over tonight? We don’t have to have sex. I just want-”

“To be close to me?” I interrupted her. Internally, I smirked. Power move. “Yeah, I want to be close to you too.” We hugged, then slowly looked into each other’s eyes and kissed.

Morgan was a lot like me. She was an overthinker whose life was exponentially complicated with Taylor around. She didn’t like bullshit and had to keep her annoying brother at bay. But mostly, she claimed to hate drama yet was causing me a lot of drama headaches when the solution, from the outside, was as easy as just saying the right thing. But I still loved her. And if that meant having an argument about nothing… so be it. At least I now knew that I couldn’t sleep with other girls if we were to hope to be together. The next step was finding out what the hell got her so scared, the thing she thought could drive me away. The thing that burned going down.

________________________________________

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6 thoughts on “Mutual Benefits – Chapter 17

  1. I’m with Artemisrijan on this, though I can see Longtime Reader’s point! But relationships can be messy – and if they were simple then novels wouldn’t be very interesting.

    But it does (almost) seem as if Morgan’s drama is a mechanism to keep us reading until the next episode! Don’t worry: I’d keep reading anyway.

    Perhaps the most interesting point is how Quinn, almost without realising it, is becoming an integral player in the ‘group’ rather than someone allowed in on suffrance because of someone else’s desire.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the Morgan-Quinn relationship, it seems healthy and natural.
    I like that it’s not rushed, kinda reminds me of the relationship dynamic portraied in the Manga “Blue Flag”, but I can understand why feel like it drags on.
    But I like and I’m waiting for the next update.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Morgan has Sex with someone else.
    She wants to stop but somehow can´t and it is killing her. Therefore she feels that she has to allow Quinn to have sex with other people. It makes that more acceptable in her mind but in reality she doesn´t want him to do it. She particularly doesn´t want him to do anything with Taylor because she feels she could take him away from her.
    Its just a theory but… well you heard it here first XD
    Wild guessing aside, I really like your new story. This focus on miscommunication and a bunch of Teenagers learning to do it better over time is something I have never seen anywhere in a book before but imagine happening every day in real schools. I am really excited to see where this is going so please don´t leave me waiting too long for the next chaper!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i get it’s for story reasons, but if this were real life and morgan was giving me the run around like this, i would’ve lost my patience at some point..

    Liked by 1 person

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