Friends With Benefits (Flash Fiction)

“I think I got everyone,” Chet said, frowning at RSVPs on Facebook. He was fretting over the guest list for our dinner party. Frankly, I couldn’t see why he was making such a fuss over it all— when we had first broached the idea of a housewarming I suggested we just have the gang over for pizza and beer and an endless game of Rock Band. But then Katherine, Chet’s mom, had decided to stick her oar in and suddenly our casual get-together had morphed into a formal dinner party. Tablecloth, matching napkins, wedding china, crystal candlesticks, three kinds of wine, four courses, and six couples.

Our wedding reception was less elaborate.

Luckily for me, I had managed to squeeze my best friends, Mike and Ike, onto the guest list. Chet had complained that it would mess up the seating arrangements— he was convinced it had to be boy-girl-boy-girl— but I particularly wanted Ike there, if for no other reason than he could be counted on to hole up with me in the kitchen and snark about the ridiculousness of it all.

I really don’t blame Chet for this. Normally he’s pretty laid back— one among his more stellar qualities that led me to marry him— but if anyone can push his buttons it’s dear old Mom. Dinner parties are her idea of fun, particularly ones where she can show off husband-to-be-number-three (or is it four?). “I don’t bother marrying them,” she told me once. “Being engaged is so much more fun.” Of course this was approximately thirty seconds after I told her off for trying to micromanage my wedding plans for what had to be the eleventh time, but who’s counting?

I texted Ike: “I thought I was marrying a tae-kwon-do instructor. Now he’s channeling his inner Martha Stewart.”

Ike texted back immediately: “It’s a good thing!”

Me: “There is not enough booze in the world to get me through this party.”

Ike responded with a link to a coupon for an expensive brand of gin.

The night of the party I was wearing a little black number with shoes that pinched my toes (I wasn’t planning to wear them long, anyway) and I agreed to door duty so that Chet could put the finishing touches on dinner. Mike and Ike were the first to arrive.

“Here,” Ike said, shoving a paper bag at me. “A little Dutch courage to get you through this evening.” It contained a bottle of that gin.

“Thanks, Ike, I think I’ll need this!” I shooed him to the bar so he could start mixing drinks. “Mike, can I say you are looking very pretty tonight?”

Mike thanked me in his best feminine flutter. He works as a hostess at the city’s most infamous drag club, and knows how to put on a slinky glad rag and pass as a woman with the best of them. “I’m Michelle tonight, of course. I really like that dress on you, Karen. Where did you get it?”

“That vintage store on Sixteenth.”

“I love that place. I’m in there constantly.”

Ike passed out drinks as the doorbell rang, and our living room began to fill with Chet’s carefully chosen couples. Mom-in-law and her latest, Dennis, arrived just as we were about to sit down.

As soon as we all took our seats I could see that there would be trouble. Ike was next to me, and Mike next to him, then Dennis, Mom-in-law, Chet at the other end of the table, Barbara, John, Stephanie, and Mitch. Dennis pulled out the chair for Mike, or should I say, “Michelle,” and “she” gave him a ten-thousand watt smile. I raised my eyebrows at Ike, who returned a smirk and immediately engaged Stephanie and Mitch in conversation, leaving me free to watch as “Michelle” flirted with Dennis.

The poor guy barely knew what hit him, but he knew that he liked it. I could see him drawn like a moth to the bug zapper as Mike pulled out all the stops, effortlessly burying Dennis in charm and flattery. Soon they were giggling and gossiping like long-separated sorority sisters.

Chet’s Mom was less thrilled, watching her fiance fall under Mike’s spell. I don’t think she recognized “Michelle” as Mike, but she knew that her hold on Dennis was threatened, and counterattacked with claws unsheathed. Dennis out of an overblown sense of chivalry and an underdeveloped sense of self-preservation, tried to mediate, putting himself squarely in the middle of the cat fight. Mom-in-law soon directed her ire towards the light of her last-four-months, announcing that she was not going to be seen with such an utter bastard. Throwing down her napkin, she rose from her chair and stalked out of the room. We heard the front door slam once, then twice as Dennis hurried after her. A moment later we heard their raised voices screaming at one another from the parking lot.

“Well,” Barbara broke the silence. “That was… interesting.”

Chet gave me a meaningful glance down the end of the table. “You were right, Karen. A dinner party was a bad idea. No more dinner parties. At least not with my mom around.” He sighed and headed to the kitchen. “Anybody for dessert? And maybe a video game?”

Ike leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, “We weren’t certain you would like your housewarming present.”

“Getting rid of my mother in law for the rest of the evening? This is better than anything.”

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