When a friend urges Stephanie Cohen not to put all her eggs in one bastard, the advice falls on closed ears. As in one hand over each ear while saying la la la I can’t hear you.
You see, Stephanie’s college crush on Craig Hille has been awakened thirteen years later as if soaked in a can of Redbull, and she’s determined not to let the guy who got away once, get away again. Sounds like a plan.
Even though it’s been more than a decade since Stephanie has been in the same room with Craig, she’s convinced their reunion, or rather union, is fated. Everyone else in their close-knit group of college friends is paired up except Stephanie and Craig. Surely, it’s a sign, right?
But if actions speak louder than words, Craig’s mixed signals are screaming contradictions. And Stephanie may need to get her head out of the clouds to see what’s right in front of her . . .
“The perfect vacation read. The dialogue flows like beer at a beach party.” —K. C. Wilder, author of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Husband
“Meredith writes with wit, candor, humor, and vulnerability that illuminates the struggles of dating and relationships.” —Nancy Slotnick, author of Turn Your Cablight On
|Publisher:||Henery Press Publishing|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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After the waitress uncorked the two bottles of wine we had ordered to celebrate Hope's twenty-fifth birthday, one red and one white, we chanted in chorus, "Speech! Speech! Speech!"
As Hope stood up to make her toast, the pale skin beneath her freckled face — already flushed from the bottle of pinot noir we shared at her sister and brother-in-law's house before dinner — turned a deeper shade of red.
"Okay, okay. Simmer down, people." Hope waited for us to stop chanting. We were all buzzed so it took a moment, but eventually we stopped pounding our fists against the table, put down our utensils, and let Hope speak.
"I want to thank you all for joining me at my birthday celebration." Turning to her sister, she said, "Although, Jess, as my closest blood relative, you're kind of obligated. And Eric, as Jess's husband, you didn't really have a choice either. And Paul, well, if you want to get laid later, you had to be here too. So I'd just like to thank Stephanie for taking the train from D.C. to Philly to celebrate with me. Mwah! And Craig, it was very cool of you to drive here from New Jersey. You guys rock. Happy birthday to me!" Hope took a sip of her wine and sat down.
Standing up with his glass raised, Paul said, "Well, that speech totally sucked, but since you're practically ten years younger than the rest of us, we'll let it slide."
"I'm only seven years older than her, not ten," I protested.
Dismissing me, Paul said, "Same thing, Cohen."
I mock glared at him. No one would guess we dated for two years back in college from the way we constantly bickered now. But it was all in good fun, and he knew I'd donate an organ if he needed it and vice versa.
"Last I checked, seven and ten differed by three," Craig said with a wink in my direction.
"Thank you, Craig," I said as my face flushed. I'd spent the entirety of my first semester of college lusting over and daydreaming about Craig before falling for Paul, but somehow the years away from him had robbed my memory of how sexy he was. Seeing him now for the first time since he graduated two years before me, the attraction returned like Freddy in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Only now without the guilt of dating his best friend.
"Whose side are you on, Hille?" Paul said.
"I'm on the side of math," Craig said, flashing me a knowing look.
I giggled, and while Craig returned his attention to Paul, who was now toasting Hope, I took the opportunity to conduct a further inspection of Craig. He was even cuter in his thirties than he was at twenty-one. Unlike the other brothers from his fraternity, he didn't have a receding hairline yet and years of drinking beer hadn't reached his gut.
Interrupting my silent appraisal, Paul said, "Are you listening to me, Cohen? I'm trying to make a toast here and you're all glassy-eyed like you just smoked up."
"Maybe I have. Jealous much?" I asked.
His eyes wide with interest, Paul said, "Really?"
"No. Not really. Resume your toast. I promise to listen."
Paul sat down. "Screw it, I forgot what I was gonna say. Happy birthday to Hope."
Hope reached over and gave Paul a peck on the lips, which quickly morphed into a bona fìde smooch-fest. They'd only admitted their mutual attraction and started dating a few months earlier. Clearly, they were still in the stage of the budding relationship where they thought public displays of affection were appropriate. The long-distance aspect — Hope lived in Philly and Paul in Cincinnati — only added to their inability to keep their hands off of each other. I switched my attention to Jess, but she had moved from her own seat onto Eric's lap and was whispering in his ear. I took another sip of wine, hoping to drown out the reminder that not only was I the oldest female in the group, I was also the only single one. I took a surreptitious glance at Craig, who was typing on his Blackberry, and wondered if he was unattached too. I felt a flutter in my belly as I imagined what it would be like to finally date him after all these years.
About forty-five minutes later, I looked down at my plate, empty except for some blood that had leaked out of my skirt steak and a mouthful of roasted potatoes. I had room left in my stomach to either finish the potatoes or drink another glass of wine and I chose the wine. Noticing the seat next to mine was empty, I asked, "Where'd Eric go?"
Craig said, "To the bathroom." Then he quickly glanced from Hope, who was deep in conversation with Jess, to me and winked again.
"If you gotta go, you gotta go, right?"
Before Craig could respond, Eric returned to the table and in a soft voice said, "We're all good."
"I doubt any of us were concerned with your ability to relieve yourself." I snorted.
Eric narrowed his eyes. "I don't know if I should be insulted or merely confused, Cohen. I'll pick the latter."
"You didn't go to the bathroom?"
"No. My trip to the little boys' room was my decoy for telling the waitress it was Hope's birthday. She's bringing out a piece of cake."
With red cheeks, I glanced at Craig and shrugged. "I'm too gullible."
"Your gullibility is part of your charm," he said.
My breath caught in my throat and I opened my mouth to thank him just as Jess called out, "How's The Librarian?"
"You'd have to ask him," I said.
Frowning, Hope asked, "What happened?"
"I couldn't take him anymore. He was beyond dorky." I had met "The Librarian" through an online dating site. I liked him enough on the first date to go on a second one, but it went downhill from there.
"Didn't you say his quirkiness was what you found most appealing about him?" Jess asked.
Before I had the chance to tell Jess how The Librarian's habit of addressing me by such endearing nicknames as "dear" and "honey" after only three dates felt insincere and gave me the heebie-jeebies, Eric asked, "Why do all of your boyfriends have nicknames, Cohen? The Librarian? Didn't you date The Mayor last? What was Paul's nickname back in college?"
Interjecting, Paul said, "The Stallion, for obvious reasons. And, not for nothing, but you can't exactly refer to these guys as Cohen's 'boyfriends' since her longest relationship since me was what, three months?"
Slinking down in my seat, I said, "Three and a half. And thanks for rubbing it in." As if I weren't already excruciatingly aware I was seemingly incapable of maintaining interest in a guy or maintaining his interest in me for longer than fourteen weeks. I also wished he'd cool it with the teasing in front of Craig. Saving me from further playful, yet painful, ridicule at the hands of my best friends, our waitress and three other waiters approached our table. Our waitress was holding a plate with a piece of chocolate cake with a lit candle on top. She looked uncertainly from me to Jess to Hope.
Pointing at Hope, Paul said, "She's the one."
The waitress let out a nervous laugh before placing the piece of cake in front of Hope's seat. Then she looked at the other waiters, whispered, "One, two, three," and sang an off-key version of "Happy Birthday" with the rest of us as backup.
While Hope buried her face in her hands, I scanned the crowded restaurant. Most of the other patrons had paused their own conversations to watch our spectacle. The waiters didn't wear red and white striped uniforms with suspenders and I had a feeling performances of this nature were not typical at this upscale venue. Paul or Eric must have slipped them money while no one was watching.
After Hope recovered, she blew out her candle and made a wish. Then the waitress took the rest of our dessert orders. I didn't order anything, but took a bite of Hope's chocolate cake, justifying that failure to do so would bring Hope bad luck.
"Stephanie," Craig said from across the table, "doesn't your firm have an office in New York?"
"It sure does." I was a paralegal for a global law firm with offices in twenty-six countries and almost every major city in the United States, including The Big Apple.
"Do they ever send you to other offices? For instance, New York?"
I knew Craig worked in the IT department of a law firm in Manhattan and my heart skipped a beat wondering why he asked. "They sent me there for a closing once, but it was a long time ago. If they ever do it again, I'll call you so we can meet up." Surprised by my own forwardness, my face heated up at the speed of a locomotive and I dropped my gaze to my black suede boots under the table.
"You'd better, Kid."
As his words passed through my ear drums, I raised my head. When our eyes locked, he flashed me another sexy wink.
After dinner, I sat at Jess and Eric's kitchen table and helped them finish off the bottle of wine we'd opened before leaving for the restaurant earlier.
"Paul lost some weight since the last time I saw him, although he's still got that beer gut," Jess said.
"Somehow, I don't think his belly is going anywhere in the near future, but maybe Hope will get him into some semblance of shape. What is she, a size two?"
Jess shook her head of shoulder-length red curls in annoyance. "Don't remind me. I'm on a permanent diet, yet my little sister gives up soda for a month and turns into a twig."
"She's one lucky chick," I agreed.
"Don't even start with me, Miss Size Four."
Eric, who had been outside smoking a cigarette, returned to the kitchen, straddled a chair backwards, reminding me of Raj from What's Happening, and said, "Not interested in this topic of conversation. What I want to know is when Andy's gonna dump Rachel's ass. I just got off the phone with him. His testicles will be the size of Raisinettes if they last another year." Andy was another one of Eric's fraternity brothers who was evidently whipped by his girlfriend.
"And how is that exactly, Raj?" I asked.
"She confiscated his porn collection again, Rerun," Eric responded. My frequent television references from the seventies went over the heads of most of my similarly-aged, eighties-born peers, but I'd trained Eric well over thirteen years of friendship.
"And we all know how Andy loves his porn," Jess said.
Eric nodded. "Frankly, if he wants to watch porn, why should she care as long as he still screws her?"
I slammed my hands on the faded wood table dramatically. "See? That's why I'm so happy to be single. A boyfriend would only get in the way of my porn addiction."
Eric clinked his wine glass against mine. "Amen to that."
Jess stood up and refilled Eric's glass. Kissing the top of his blond head, she asked, "What time are we meeting everyone for breakfast tomorrow?"
"Whenever we wake up," Eric said. "But it's not everyone. Craig's not coming."
"He's not? Why?" I hadn't seen the guy in more than ten years, but for some reason, hearing I wouldn't see him again the next day brought about an intense feeling of disappointment.
Eric shook his head. "He wanted to get an early start back to New Jersey."
Without thinking, I blurted out, "Is there a girl waiting for him or something?" I grimaced at the way my voice shook while asking the question even as I held my breath for the answer.
"Not that I know of." He narrowed his eyes at me. "Why do you care so much about Craig?"
I twirled a strand of hair around my finger. "I haven't seen him since college. I'm curious. Sue me." My genuine romantic feelings for Paul back in school had surprised me given my crush on Craig. Back then, I saw no reason to hurt or embarrass Paul by telling him or any of our mutual friends, including Eric, that I liked his friend first. And I wasn't going to do it now.
Eric stood up. "Party's over, folks. I'm going to bed."
I snuggled under the covers in the guest bedroom and tried to fall asleep, but I couldn't stop thinking about my crush on Craig back in college. Once I started dating Paul, I chalked up my infatuation with Craig to mere physical attraction. I was a straight female woman and he was a fine-looking specimen of a man — period, end of story. It was different with Paul. Sure, I was attracted to the constant devious twinkle in his green eyes and the way his perpetually messy sandy-colored hair screamed at me to smooth it down with my fingers. And I thought the way he commanded the attention of every room he entered was super sexy. But from the first time we bonded over television theme songs, Paul appreciated my quirks and particular sense of humor the way no other guy ever had. I loved every minute of being his girlfriend. Craig remained easy on my eyes, but I set aside my crush — mostly. There were a few times the air between us sizzled with an unspoken chemistry. Like the time Craig walked in on me puking in the bathroom during a party at the fraternity house. He cleaned me up and escorted me upstairs to Paul's room. Even with the walls spinning, there was no mistaking the concern in Craig's eyes. He tucked me into Paul's bed and sat with me until I fell asleep. There was even a moment when I thought he might kiss me, but of course, he couldn't and I wouldn't.
I was happy with the way things had gone down in college, but as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe there could be more to my feelings for Craig than physical attraction after all.CHAPTER 2
When I stepped inside my tiny rental apartment on the second floor of a historic row house in Capitol Hill the following evening after taking the train home from Philly, the first thing I did was turn on my television. Growing up, there had been constant chatter in my house among my mother, stepfather, older brother, and me. Years later, I still needed background noise to feel normal. Once I had the sounds of my "friends" to keep me company, I dropped my overnight bag next to my bed and went to the bathroom before plopping myself on the couch and curling under the blanket. In my opinion, the best way to fill the time between an action-packed weekend with friends and an upcoming five-day work week was to zone out on hours of mindless television. This was what I intended to do. I groaned when I saw TV Land was airing a marathon of the Andy Griffith Show. The network had become a huge disappointment to me, because it broadcast shows from the sixties and the nineties, but barely any from my favorite decades — the seventies and eighties. Enough with Everyone Loves Raymond and Bonanza. I wanted to watch The Facts of Life and The Wonder Years. I scrolled the guide until it became clear there was absolutely nothing of interest on, and I was all caught up on my DVR.
Without the drama of fake people's lives playing out on my television screen, I couldn't think of anything to do except make myself a snack. I usually went food shopping on Sundays so my choices were limited, but I did have whole wheat bread and enough Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh turkey slices to make a sandwich. I spread a little bit of mayonnaise on the bread and wished it was coleslaw. As I brought the sandwich to my mouth, I was struck with a memory from college. One night while everyone, including Paul, partied at the Longpost, Craig and I ordered delivery turkey subs and stayed at the fraternity house to watch the Yankees take on (and beat) the Red Sox. When I complained to Craig that the fraternity refrigerator was stocked with Miracle Whip, which I hated, but no mayonnaise or mustard, Craig urged me to try coleslaw in my turkey sandwich the way they did in his hometown of Pittsburgh. I'd been doing it ever since, but I had forgotten it was Craig's influence. We had a lot of fun in college — as friends — but we weren't in school anymore.
After I finished my sandwich and conducted another unsatisfactory scroll of the television guide, I put down the remote and walked to my pantry closet. Standing on my tippy toes, I removed my keepsake box from college and brought it to my couch. I hadn't felt the desire to look at it in years because Eric and Paul were my closest friends from college and I saw them almost every month despite living in different states. But with Craig seemingly back in the picture, I was feeling nostalgic.
The first item I pulled out of the box was a stray commander piece from the Risk board game. I held the game of Risk responsible for my friendship with Eric because when none of the other fraternity brothers, including Paul, had the patience for the novice female player who wanted in on the weekly game night, Eric taught me how to play in secret. The slack jaws and wide eyes of the guys when I won my secret mission of conquering Asia and South America were permanently etched upon my brain. I hugged the piece to my chest before returning it to the box.
Next, I removed an old Dirty Mad Libs book Paul and I had filled out when we were dating, followed by an empty Charles Chips tin from the time he'd filled it with green M&Ms for my birthday. I let out a shallow sigh at the memories — never a dull moment.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Just Friends With Benefits"
Copyright © 2017 Meredith Schorr.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Almost every woman in America can relate to Stephanie, the heroine created by author Meredith Schorr. Stephanie is 30ish, a professional woman and has her eye on the perfect man for her. You will feel like you've known Stephanie all of your life. Or, perhaps YOU are the Stephanie in your life. We're talking about the kind of head-over-heels crazy about someone whom you know is perfect for you and whom you think you might be sure is feeling the same way about you. So, words, conversations and actions are no longer just innocent, day-to-day human events; they are signals about how he REALLY feels about you. You know the type: "What did he mean with THAT sentence? Could he have really been telling me he..." You, ...um, I mean Stephanie, reads something into every little movement or word. But, Stephanie goes through some hilarious moments along the way in search of love. Meredith Schorr is adept in turning a funny story into hilarity, including references to today's and yesterday's pop culture. I recommend this book, even for non-chic lit people like me. It is an easy and satisfying read, and like me, it will leave you anxiously awaiting her next book (which I hear is very soon).
I enjoyed the book. It was a light, easy read.
I really liked the story. This was kind of a romance novel but it wasn't all about milky white bosoms and such. It was an easy read and had more substance than a typical romance novel. It had a bit of a surprise ending that I kind of figured out at the outset but unless you've been a little jaded by love you probably won't figure out. A nice weekend read.
boring and trite
really enjoyed this book, because the story is so unpredictable! The author easily drew me in of the story of a young single women tackling the dating world and staying in touch with her longstanding group of friends! I stayed up all night reading the book. I received this book for free in a giveaway!
The author creates likable and relateable characters . I felt as if I could be in this book.
Meredith has done it again. She's written a book that commands you to ignore your family, pets and house and read until you're depressed that it's over. I've read two other of Meredith's books and this one is just as good. Just friends with Benefits is a fun story of Stephanie Cohen who turns the 'What if-' moment into a second chance in reality with her college ex. She's a bit of a tom boy, but so fun to get to know as the main character. I loved her from the beginning and all the fun little details that Meredith threw in like the 70's & 80's trivia details (who doesn't love the 80's?). The group of friends and family that Meredith has casted into the book is a riot. It was almost like I was reading a Friends episode. Every detail was so realistic that I had no problem imagining myself with them. On that note, because of that I really invested in Stephanie's life and I wanted to see her finally succeed at her lifelong plan of finding and keeping that one true love. (who was it? you'll have to read and find out!) I wasn't disappointed for sure. I gave this book - 4 Stars. I love all of Meredith's books so far and this one was no different. Her main character is always fun, a bit lost yet determined and on her way to finding out how much fun, and not fun, life can be. Truly a chick lit Author I enjoy. The book was happy, happy/sad, with twists in places I didn't expect! What I Loved: -I loved the relationship that Stephanie had with the group of her college friends. They travel together, hang out together and it was just fun to read it. -I love that Meredith writes what she knows... (she's a paralegal) and it really shows in her books that she's writing a job she's familiar with. -The book kept me reading! I don't think I ever had that 'I knew it' moment and that's awesome! What I didn't Love: -I didn't love Craig, however, I am pretty sure that was the way Meredith intended and she did a great job. I've not been single for many years but I can imagine that a guy who wants a friends with benefits relationship is exactly Craig Hille. What I thought of the Cover: I really loved the cover of this book. It screams Chick Lit, which is fitting considering it is. If I walked past this book at the book store I'd definitely stop and read the back blurb. read my full review at www.hellochicklit.com