It’s Complicated

by

Nikki Prince

Ashton Locke has had a thing for Keiko Jarrett since college. So when she proposes adding friends with benefits to the mix, he’s intrigued, but wary. Sure, he’s always wanted her, and is definitely not ready to settle down with anyone, but what happens if one of them crosses the line?

Keiko is ready to take her flirty friendship with Ashton to the next level of hot. But she never bargained for feelings to intrude and cause complications. She laughed at Ashton’s hesitation and promised she’d remain heart-whole.

Some promises are meant to be broken and as Keiko and Ashton’s benefits bleed in all aspects of their lives, Keiko needs to convince Ashton that love is worth the risk.

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Death.

Funerals always had a way of making a person think about life, and, sitting in the small church pew next to Ashton on one side, then Royce, Emmie, Áine and Darian respectively, Keiko Jarrett thought about her life. She gripped a tissue tightly in her hand as she wiped away tears that fell for her friend. Ashton held a box of tissue out to her and offered her some more and she took it balling it into her free hand.

“Thanks,” she whispered softly and looked down the pew at her two girlfriends whose eyes were swollen with shed and unshed tears as well.

Ashton reached over and rubbed her shoulder gently and the huge comfort from that touch surprised her.

She wanted to live. She held tightly to the program she’d just been handed by one of the ushers. It was beautifully done, Perry’s picture emblazoning it with one of the poems he’d loved. The guys had arrived at the funeral a bit earlier than they had and saved them seats. They were in the row behind Perry’s parents. His mother was leaning against his father and her shoulders shook with her pain. Keiko had met them several times before when Perry had a get-together and her heart ached for them. As hard as it was for them as his friends, it had to be worse for his parents. Perry Walters, classmate extraordinaire, who’d always told them to go for their dreams. He’d also been the class clown but a man who knew when to be serious when needed.

Perry had been a good friend of all of theirs and around the same age. Nothing about his life hinted to his early demise; in fact, as health conscious as he was they’d always joked he’d outlive them all. His death made no sense to Keiko. He had been so full of life always telling them they needed to take the time to grasp what they wanted and to stop waiting for it. He’d always been one to live in the moment, saying the next moment could be taken. How right he’d been. Perry’s death had been quick and, God, she’d hoped it had been painless. Cancer. The insidiousness of the disease was terrifying. Keiko remembered having a beer with him at Emmerson’s bar and grill two weeks before and he’d urged her to go after what she really wanted.

They’d all gone to the bar to unwind from their jobs for the week. Emmie would come by as she worked, because she didn’t want to be the kind of boss that played more than worked. So occasionally she’d sit with them and then get up to do more work. Darian and Royce were what they called “pool-aholics” and spent most of the time at the pool table drinking beers and egging each other on. Keiko and Perry had decided to sit and talk. The one thing she remembered about him and had always loved was that Perry was a talker. He was also an encourager of the group.

It became clear as she reflected on it. He’d known he was dying. He’d been telling her in his own way that she should go after what she’d wanted. When they’d asked him why he wasn’t dating he’d always say because he hadn’t found the right one. When she thought back to the time with Perry, he’d looked healthy to her. In fact, none of them had known he’d had cancer. It had taken him suddenly, and, without warning, their friend was gone. She’d laughed and told him that sometimes going after what one wanted was not in the cards.

Keiko laughed softly as she watched Ashton and Áine playing Ping-Pong in the section of Emmie’s bar. Ashton had shot wide and Áine had missed it.

“You’re staring at him again.”

Keiko turned her head to Perry who was leaning over her shoulder with a serious expression on his face and she frowned.

“No, I’m not. I was watching them play.”

“More like thinking about drawing designs on his skin with your tongue. You know if you want him, you should go for it.”

Keiko turned her head and eyed Perry. “What?”

“Girl, you heard exactly what I said.” Perry leaned back in his chair and took another drink of his beer and set it down. He didn’t take his eyes off her and she glared at him.

“You know I’m right or you wouldn’t be reacting like that. Besides you haven’t had any luck in the dating field as it is. Who was that guy a few weeks ago who took you out to eat and decided to take you to a fast-food restaurant?”

“Dennis Carvalho.” Keiko picked up her beer and took a big swallow after answering him.

“Right, that’s it, Dennis Carvalho, the guy cheaper than a pair of fake leather pants.”

Keiko coughed as she’d just started to take another drink of beer when he’d said that.

“Slow down, beautiful, before you get tipsy. Oh, hey, wait.” His eyes brightened up and a touch of wickedness was in his expression.

“What’s that look for?” Keiko set her glass back down on the table and narrowed her eyes on him.

“Well, just thinking if memory serves me, when you drink too much you get a little touchy-feely. Maybe a little liquid courage will help?”

“Shit, get a little tipsy one time in college and it never gets dropped.”

“Of course not, but at least you got touchy-feely with me and not someone else.”

“Yes, it’s a good thing you’re a friend or that could have been disastrous.”

“Not so if it were with Ashton. Then maybe you two would stop dancing around each other. Ya know the whole friends with bennies kinda thing.”

“Perry—”

“I know what you’re going to say, but you’ll see what I mean if you just make that move.”

Keiko opened her mouth to retort but was stopped as the rest of their friends came to the large table and all sat down bringing their extra noise with them. Ashton sat next to her and placed his arm on the back of her chair and Keiko had to look away from Perry as he wiggled his eyebrows. Keiko had to admit Ashton’s closeness always made her feel needy. But, she wasn’t going to admit that to Perry. Hell, she really didn’t have to, he knew it.

“This is always so fun, getting together when we can, just like we used to in college,” Áine said as she reached for the pitcher of beer and poured some in her glass stein.

“It is; those were some of our best times,” Darian said with a small snicker.

“Yeah, some of the craziest times too. Remember how we all met?” Áine queried.

“God, how can any of us forget?” Keiko said to Áine.

“Yeah, after the football game under the bleachers,” Royce commented.

“We had the big storm that day and we all had run under there to get out of the downpour,” Keiko said softly.

It had been like an instant bond between all of them. She’d never understood why, but then it was one of those things that asking why truly didn’t matter.

Emmie strolled over and leaned her hand on the back of Royce’s chair. “And what are we all talking about, my lovelies?”

“How we first met,” Keiko added.

“I felt like a drowned rat,” Emmie said.

“You didn’t look like any drowned rat that I’ve ever seen,” Royce offered up.

Emmie winked at Royce. Their little byplay and flirtation was something they’d all gotten used to. From the moment of meeting, Royce and Emmie had played around their attraction to one another. As far as Keiko knew nothing had come of the flirtations but it was interesting all the same to watch them together. None of them had fit into any stereotype and amazingly any idiosyncrasies between them all just seemed to match up and meld together making their friendships stronger.

“Nope, you didn’t but Royce did,” Ashton said jokingly as he slapped his hand on Royce’s shoulder. They all burst into laughter.

Royce snickered and said, “Whatever, bro. Whatever.”

“That was a fantastic night for our alma mater and a beginning of the wonderful friendships we all formed,” Keiko said simply.

Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

“Our football team won against our dreaded enemies, the Bears.”

“Yeah that storm lasted, what, about an hour after that game?” Áine asked.

“I think it was the other team shedding tears,” Darian joked and turned to look at Áine. The laugh Áine gave sounded nervous before she picked up her drink and took a long sip.

Interesting. When was Áine ever nervous about anything? She was all fire and spark.

“I’d have to say you were right. We beat them bad,” Emmie said with a small giggle as she picked up a pretzel and took a bite.

Everyone started talking amongst themselves and Keiko turned to see Perry watching her. Keiko pretended as if everything was as per usual and laughed and joked as well.

Later, after the bar had closed, Keiko had stepped out after saying goodbye to them all. When she moved into Ashton’s arms, nothing had ever felt so good and she could have sworn he held her just a bit longer than the other guys, but she didn’t comment. When he pulled back she had made sure not to look into his eyes.

“Kei, do you need a walk to your car?” Ashton said.

Keiko shook her head in the negative. “Thanks, Ash, but I actually gave Perry a ride here.”

“Oh, okay. See you soon,” Ashton replied.

“Yes, of course.” Keiko waved then turned to head toward her car.

She didn’t say anything as Perry fell instep beside her.

“Now I’m upset that I asked you for a ride. If I’d been smart about it, I would have picked you up so that you and Ash could ride together.”

“Percival.”

“Nope you don’t get to, Percival me. You need to take what you want. Life is too short; besides he doesn’t live far from you.”

“Perry, you’re talking crazy,” Keiko said as they stopped next to her car and she searched for her keys.

“No, I’m just saying that it’s been a long time since you had that itch. Now go out and scratch it.”

“Perry, we have our whole lives ahead of us.”

The look on his face when she said that gave her pause and she was about to say something when he spoke again.

“Where is that adventurous spirit of yours? The one you said you found after your mom died?”

Keiko didn’t take offense. The relationships they all had was one where they could tell each other anything. He said it in love. “The spirit is still there, I promise. I just don’t think I should go up to Ashton and proposition him. Besides, I don’t want to rush into anything.”

“Time has a way of slipping through our fingers is all I’m saying. Go for what you want, don’t wait for things to happen to you, you need to make them happen.”

To go for what she wanted or to let the possibility slip through her fingers, that was indeed the question.

Although what Perry said made sense to her, he was being overly dramatic and now here they were at his gravesite. Gone too soon as they said but damn he’d left such an impact on all of their lives. The one when someone was feeling down who had a kind word to say. The one who would have given the shirt off his back. He’d honestly been the glue in the beginning of their friendships. Always keeping them together and finding ways they stayed in touch until it became a second skin to them all.

“Kei?”

Keiko glanced up at Ashton and realized that it was their turn to place their roses on Perry’s coffin. Ashton placed his hand at the small of her back and walked with her and they both set their roses down. Soon after, Royce, Emmie, Áine, and Darian did the same. The funeral was sweet and to the point and over quickly as Perry would have wanted. Later that evening they all sat around to talk about Perry. Once again, they’d all naturally paired into male to female couplings although they all sat around talking to each other.

Keiko silently watched her two girlfriends and their three male friends and realized perhaps Perry was on to something. She had a great relationship with Ashton. Royce and Emmie clicked well together, and Áine and Darian had a rapport as well. So why couldn’t more happen between them all? Dating was and had always been a minefield of men who hadn’t been what she wanted or needed. Sex for just the sake of sex with unknown men wasn’t in her to do. Random hookups. Not only were they dangerous physically, sexually, and possibly mentally, they just weren’t what she wanted in her life. She was a very sexual being, so were Emmie and Áine. Maybe it was time to take another look at all their relationships.

If there was one thing she could do it would be to live her life as Perry had said and she’d get her girlfriends to do the same. Well, at least she’d try.

End of Excerpt

It’s Complicated is available in the following formats:

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April 10, 2018

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