Lawrence C. Ross, Jr.'s irresistible debut novel charts one man's journey of self discovery through a series of wild, unforgettable adventures.
His profile as an up-and-coming attorney at the powerful Los Angeles law firm of Ketchings & Martin doesn't quite jibe with the fact that Jason Richards barely has a social life, much less a love life. So when his smooth-talking colleague Steven Cox entreats Jason to join him on a regimen of sex, style, and more sex touted by the men's magazine, Titan, Jason is intrigued. Under Steven's tutelage, Jason soon gets with the program-and suddenly nights are filled with supermodels, swanky loft parties, a fine Ducati motorcycle, and all the hot sistahs he could ask for-if he even had to ask.
But something-someone, really-is making Jason itch to break the Titan code. Carole Brantford, the beautiful director of Mama's House, a community center for single mothers, has Jason longing to get back to a real life that's headlined by real feelings for a real woman. But then he agrees to one last party, this time at his place. Little does he know that what's about to go down will change everything...
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Friends with Benefits
By Lawrence Ross
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Lawrence Ross, Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt first it had been cool, but now it was beginning to piss Jason off. Not because of what it was, but because of what it represented. Every Friday night, no matter how late he got home from the law office, he knew a warm dish of beef Stroganoff was waiting for him. It didn't come from his mother or from a girlfriend. It was a weekly bowl of sympathy made by Mrs. Olga Petroff, an older Russian woman who lived in his apartment building.
"Every man should have a woman cook for him at least one meal a week," Mrs. Petroff had exclaimed two years ago. "That is an old Russian proverb. What woman cooks for you, Jason?" Even after thirty years in this country, her English was still lightly accented with Russian.
This was not a discussion Jason had anticipated having with Mrs. Petroff. In fact, he'd only talked to her that day because he'd run out of milk and he didn't feel like going to the store. He knew she was always home, so he'd knocked on her door in order to save time. But there he was, standing in front of an old woman trying to explain that he was going through a dry spell on the dating scene.
"I don't have a girlfriend right now, in fact I haven't had one for a while, but I'm hoping that changes soon. I'm just sort of, well,waiting for the right woman. So I guess I don't have that woman in my life that cooks for me," he answered.
"Oh, yes you do! Me!" she exclaimed eagerly.
She grabbed Jason by the arm, pulled him into her apartment, and suddenly he was sitting in an impeccably outfitted kitchen. Shiny brass pots hung from the ceiling, fine china was displayed in the cabinets and a fresh cherry pie was cooling on the counter. This was the kitchen of someone who took cooking seriously. Mrs. Petroff bent down and pulled out a green-and-white cookbook that looked like it had been passed directly from Russian czars to her. It had little slips of paper stuff throughout, as though she'd created addendums to the original recipe. She had.
"In this country, I don't understand. Men and women work, work, work, and don't take care of each other. When you find a woman who will cook for you, you should keep her," she commented, flipping through the cookbook. "Until then, I will cook for you. What is your favorite meal?"
"Well, I like-"
"Do you like beef?"
"Yes, and I like-"
"Until you get a girlfriend, I will make you beef Stroganoff every Friday," she said, pointing to a page in her book. "Beef Stroganoff is the dish of Russian kings, and it will keep you strong. Plus, it will bring you good luck."
"Okay," Jason said, who wanted to back out of her apartment as soon as possible. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Petroff."
"You're going to find a good woman and she's going to make a great man of you," she said as they slowly walked to her front door.
Then, as she opened her door to let him go, Mrs. Petroff suddenly turned around, her face full of concern.
"You're not a homosexual, are you, Jason?" she asked.
"No ma'am," Jason stuttered, startled that this old woman was now asking if he liked men. Did he project that? he wondered. "I'm just on sort of a dry streak when it comes to women."
"A dry streak?" she said, not really understanding.
"I just haven't had a lot of luck with women lately."
"Oh, don't worry, you'll find one!" she said, pinching his cheeks a little too hard. "But I did want to make sure you weren't a homosexual. I don't have anything against homosexuals, but the Stroganoff wouldn't help you there. It will only bring you luck if you are looking for a woman."
And with that, she started preparing Jason's first batch of beef Stroganoff.
So it came as no surprise when Mrs. Petroff greeted him on this particular Friday with the same question she'd asked for the past two years.
"Have you found that woman yet?"
Jason literally had his key in the door, and Mrs. Petroff had come bursting out of her apartment with the energy of a forty-year-old and not the sixty-year-old she truly was.
"No Mrs. Petroff, no woman again."
"Don't worry, she'll come. And when she comes, you'll know it because she'll be the right one." She then handed him his weekly dish of beef Stroganoff.
"Thank you, ma'am."
And there it was. A Jason Richards Friday night punctuated by a steaming dish of beef Stroganoff, handed to him by an elderly woman obsessed with his love life. There had to be a better way.
"What's up, y'all? You have now reached Jason Richards's residence. Please leave a message and I'll holla back at ya when I get the time."
Jason pressed the pound sign on his phone to retrieve his messages.
"You have no new messages," the computer voice said.
Jason heard those words, and it reminded him about how lonely his life truly had suddenly become.
Not even bill collectors are calling my house, he thought. Is this all worth it? Is the end result worth what I'm giving up?
He wearily sat down in his leather chair and turned on his television. Jason had never gotten used to the silence of being alone, and the television created enough white noise to help cut it. It may be only white noise, but it is noise all the same.
And so he sat there, thinking. He was Jason Richards, a twenty-eight-year-old rising star at the Ketchings & Martin law firm, and targeted for success from the minute he walked into the office two years ago. Peter Ketchings had even taken him into his office during his first week at the firm to tell him so.
"Jason, we're really happy to have you on board," Peter Ketchings had said. Peter Ketchings was a quiet intimidator. He'd made his money as a trial lawyer against corporations, and continued to make his money by attacking everything from lead paint to restaurants serving too-hot coffee. He didn't lose often, and didn't hire losing lawyers. "Over the past five years, we've been trying to diversify our firm with excellent lawyers from every background, and I think that if you work hard, you can go far here. We're always looking for stars at this firm, and you have the potential to be one. But you have to work hard and be willing to give up a lot to win. I only want winners here at my firm."
"Sir, I thank you for the compliment," Jason said, confident in his skills. He looked Ketchings directly in the eye. "I want you to know from the start that no one outworks me. I can guarantee that. Before you get into the office, I'll be here. And after you leave the office, I'll still be here."
"I wish we could transplant your attitude into some of the lawyers we have," Ketchings said, smiling. He handed Jason a manila folder. "I'm putting you on the Burger World lawsuit. Steven Cox was on it, but I'm taking him off of it. He'll brief you. Good luck, Jason."
Jason had walked out of Ketchings's office determined to prove himself. Jason had graduated at the top of his class in law school, so he knew he was good. But he also had a sneaking suspicion that the firm needed a black lawyer to "color up" the firm, and he'd fit the bill perfectly. If they were manipulating him, that was fine with Jason. But then he was going to manipulate them by advancing as far as he could, as fast as he could. He wanted to be a partner in the firm, and nothing was going to stop him.
"This case is a hellhole," Steven Cox told Jason as he transferred a box of files to him. "I think they give cases like this to new lawyers just to test them. They take a lot of time and there's little reward at the end."
"How long did you work on the case?" Jason asked, opening some of the folders.
"Six fucking months. And that was six fucking months too damn long."
Steven Cox was the other black lawyer at the firm, although he was so light skinned, Jason doubted that many of the white lawyers even knew he was black. He dressed impeccably, with tailored suits that looked ripped from the pages of Esquire magazine. He'd arrived at the firm about a year before Jason, and had represented Ketchings & Martin when Berkeley had invited law firms to recruit their students. Everything about him had impressed Jason, from his dress and the way he carried himself, and his example was a deciding factor in choosing Ketchings & Martin over everyone else. But when Jason got to the firm, it was clear that Steven was struggling to make a mark, and the Burger World case was one of the reasons. Steven looked at the Burger World lawsuit as an albatross around his career, and was happy to get rid of it.
"This shit was cutting into pussy time, if you know what I mean," Steven said, smiling.
"Yeah," Jason said, still shuffling through the papers.
Steven leaned back in his chair and studied Jason.
"You really believe that shit Ketchings and the others talk about, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"About being a star at this firm, and shit like that? You actually believe that shit, don't you?"
Jason stopped shuffling through the papers and looked up.
"Yeah, I believe in it. I believe that if I knock out something like this Burger World case, then I can move up. I'm not satisfied with being an associate. I got into law because I want to be a partner. And I don't care what I have to sacrifice to get it."
Steven smirked at Jason as though he'd seen and heard this all before.
"Ah, you're one of those ambitious Negroes I keep hearing about!" Steven laughed. "You're going to work your ass off for eighty hours a week, week after week, month after month, year after year, in order to prove to these white folks that they didn't make a mistake when they hired a black lawyer. I can see it in your eyes."
"I don't know what you're all about Steven, but I know what I want out of being a lawyer," Jason said, annoyed. "I didn't come here to fuck around, but to do the best I can. So I guess I am one of those ambitious Negroes you heard about. So as long as you don't fuck with what I'm trying to do, then we won't have any problems. We understand each other?"
Steven ran his fingers through his hair. He took the final pile of papers and dropped them on Jason's desk.
"Whatever you say, brother," he said sarcastically. "If you turn this bullshit into something, I'll be the first to kiss your ass. Don't hold your breath."
Jason turned away.
"Hey look, cat," Steven said, grinning. "If you want to be Johnnie Cochran up in here, I ain't gonna stop you. I just want to get my check and roll, myself. But the fact is that there are only two brothers in this bitch, you and me, so we should have each other's back. You cool?"
As Jason looked up from his desk, Steven offered his hand. He didn't dislike Steven, and he didn't trust him either. But he was the only other brother at the firm.
"Cool," he said, shaking Steven's hand. "Now tell me about this Burger World lawsuit."
"Do you really want to know?" he asked.
Steven popped open a Red Bull and took a sip.
"Okay, here it is," Steven started. "An Australian guy brings his family to California for a little vacation. It's winter in Australia during our summer, and he figures they could get a little sun and see the sights. You know, take the kids to Disneyland and the whole nine."
"So everything's going well. The kids are happy because they've gone to Disneyland and got some Mickey Mouse ears, while the wife's happy because she's walked down Rodeo Drive and shopped in the same place Nicole Kidman shopped. And of course the dad is happy because the kids and the wife are out of his hair."
"Okay, so what's the problem?"
"The dad is kicking it poolside, checking out women not his wife, when he gets a text message on his Blackberry. It's from his best friend Ainsley, who's back in Melbourne. He tells our Aussie friend that no matter what he does, he's got to stop at Burger World and get a Burger World big all-beef burger with extra beef. He says that he's never tasted anything like it and it has to be experienced to be appreciated."
"I love those damn things," Jason said. "Had one last night."
"Well, you might not love them after I finish telling you the story," Steven laughed. "The idea sounds good, plus he loves hamburgers, so he takes his family to get one. He goes to the one right next to Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood so he can kill two birds with one stone."
"The kids and the wife could check out Clark Gable's footprints at Graumann, and he could get some grub."
"Exactly," Steven said, taking another sip of his Red Bull. "Right after he finds out that he has the same shoe size as Gary Cooper, he takes the family across the street to Burger World and orders a Burger World big all-beef burger with extra beef. And damned if it doesn't taste good to him. He eats half of it, and then takes the rest to the hotel to finish later. But that's when the problems begin. He's sitting in his hotel room when his head begins swelling to the size of Shaquille O'Neal's."
"Damn," Jason said, enthralled.
"Yeah, and that's what the wife said. I suppose if she had her druthers, she would have picked something else to swell as large as Shaq's beside her husband's head, but I digress."
"So what happens? Did the dude die?"
"Nah, he didn't die. But they take him to the emergency room where the doctor asks the wife whether her husband is allergic to anything. They go over the usual things, medicines, penicillin, all that shit. She's saying no to everything the doctor asks until she remembers that her husband was allergic to one thing."
"And that was?"
"Hold for it," Steven said, giggling. "Kangaroo meat. Isn't that funny? An Australian allergic to kangaroo meat! She remembered that when they were first married, they'd gone on a trip to the Australian outback and stayed at a hotel where kangaroo meat was served. The husband, trying to impress his new wife, ordered it and damn near had the same reaction. But where had the man eaten kangaroo meat in California?"
"At Burger World?"
"Bingo, my ambitious Negro lawyer," Steven said. "It turns out that the Burger World big all-beef burger with extra beef ain't made of beef. So after the swelling goes down, the Aussie comes to us and we file a lawsuit on his behalf."
"How come Burger World didn't just make it go away?" Jason asked, reading a paper from the files. "It says here that we started negotiations for a settlement, but things broke off." "Yep, I almost got them to settle. But Country Bob Briggs owns Burger World, and he's a stubborn bastard. His lawyers told him they could make the lawsuit go away, but he feels that Burger World hasn't done anything wrong. So we're at loggerheads. And that's why you have the case. Ketchings & Martin wants to win this case badly because they think this isn't a one-off thing. They think folks have been eating kangaroo meat for years."
"So they've given it to a green lawyer looking to make a reputation?" Jason asked.
"Who better?" Steven said. "More experienced lawyers were already handling cases, so they gave it to me. And now I give it to you. Good luck, 'cause you're going to need it."
That had been two years ago. Jason now sat on his couch, exhausted from working eighty hours a week, month after month, just as Steven had predicted. That was the deal with the devil he'd made. But as a result, relationships of all kinds got kicked to the side. Friends, women, family, all came in second place behind his career ambitions as a lawyer. But he now realized that he needed some balance in his life other than torts, beef Stroganoff, and ESPN.
Jason's cell phone rang and he checked the caller ID. It was Steven.
"Jason, it's Steven. Are we still on for G. Garvin's with the girls?"
"Yeah," Jason answered.
"Good, I need my wingman for Carole."
"You're going after Carole?"
"You damn right. I know you've known her for a while, but damn, have you seen that ass? I've got to keep trying to hit it."
"Only you would interpret one hundred straight rejections by the same woman as interest," Jason said.
"That's why I'm me and you're you, baby. I never give up."
"See you in a couple of hours."
Jason went into the bedroom and pulled out some clothes. Tonight, Jason and Steven were meeting with two friends, Marcia Cambridge and Carole Brantford at G. Garvin's, the hot new spot in Beverly Hills. But before that, Jason had a call to make.
Excerpted from Friends with Benefits by Lawrence Ross Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence Ross, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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