It was four forty-nine and the tape hadn't magically appeared anywhere in the office. Sara had gone through the motions, spending the whole day in a haze, unable to concentrate on anything but the potential exposure of her fling with Andy. She had skipped lunch and made her calls, given information to and received it from fifteen people to whom she didn't even remember talking. It was time to go home. All she wanted to do was pour a glass of wine, light some candles, and sit in the tub and relax.
Sara's cell phone rang. She checked the caller ID; it was Josh.
"Hi, Josh," she said when she flipped the phone open. She leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on the desk.
"Got plans tonight?" There was excitement in Josh's voice. He was usually laid back, but something had him worked up.
"It's been a real bad day, Josh."
"I know how to make it better." She could hear the smile on his face.
"I'm not going out drinking on a Tuesday night."
"Better than drinking."
"What?" Her voice was flat, tired, and devoid of emotion.
"Remember what we talked about the other day?" Josh didn't wait for a response. "Rob's in, but he's leaving for Charleston tomorrow morning for a week. We could make all your fantasies come true tonight."
Sara thought about it. She didn't want to see anyone tonight. She wanted to go home and worry about the tape and fail to relax. But she also had put a plan into motion and she didn't want to quit after only four days. She didn't have anything else lined up for tonight, and she had to do something with someone tonight so she could put a checkmark in the box for day five. It looked like this was her checkmark.
"Still with me?" asked Josh.
"Yeah." Sara tried to put a little more energy into her voice. "Tonight sounds great. What time?"
"Perfect. At Rob's, or your place?"
"Seeya there." Sara hung up, grabbed her purse, and left.
She rushed home, took a quick shower, and dressed herself in everything she remembered from conversations with Rob and Josh about what they found appealing. She donned a black satin bustier that laced tightly up the front and pushed her breasts up and out, making them look at least one cup size larger than they were. A tiny satin g-string barely covered her in front and rode uncomfortably up her ass. Sheer black thigh-high stockings and ridiculously high heels, six inches with a one inch platform, the kind she called hooker heels and would never wear in public, completed her outfit. She pulled on a long sleeved red dress over the ensemble and buttoned it up the front.
The drive to Rob's apartment only took fifteen minutes, and when Josh answered the door she excused herself to the bathroom. She unbuttoned her dress and adjusted her bustier, twisting it to straighten it out. She touched up her makeup as she stared at her own reflection. She was trying to decide if she should leave on the red dress she had arrived in or come out in nothing but the lingerie when she heard Rob's voice through the door.
"...fucking kidding me." was all she heard from Rob. He was loud, incredulous.
She pressed her ear to the door, listening carefully, hoping to get a hint as to what might have made him mad, whether or not he would go along with her request.
"She asked us because she trusts us." That was Josh, sounding reasonable.
"I can't just sleep with someone. I'm not like you."
"Sara's a friend, and she asked for our help. Would you say no if she was moving?"
"This isn't moving. Jesus, did you really think I'd go along with this?" Something banged loudly. It could have been Rob putting his beer bottle down too hard on the table, or perhaps striking something. Sara couldn't tell.
"Look, if we don't do this for her, she'll go find a couple of strangers."
"Good, let her."
"What if they hurt her? Do you want that on your conscious?" Josh was doing a good job at presenting the argument, trying all the angles.
"I can't do this."
"I know how you feel about her."
"You don't know shit."
"She wants this. She asked for you. Isn't that enough for you?"
"This is wrong on so many levels." Rob paused. "You don't see her the way I do."
"She's fascinating. Beautiful. I'm... infatuated. No, not infatuated. More like... I don't know. She's just so amazing. She's like..." There was a long pause, during which realization dawned on Sara. Rob was in love with her. How did I miss that? she thought.
"She's just so sweet. So perfect. Even you can't feel right about this."
"I admit it's weird. But it's what she wants, and if I can help..."
"Great, Josh. Just follow your dick, don't worry about who gets hurt."
"Rob, she asked for this. Literally came right out and asked for you, and me, and this. She's not going to get hurt."
"What about me?"
Sara had heard enough. She quickly buttoned up the front of the crimson dress. Smoothing it out as she opened the door, she strode purposefully into the small living room. Josh was seated on the couch at an angle, facing Rob in the threadbare chair to his left. She could see Rob's face, startled and confused, as she practically stormed into the room, her heels thumping deafeningly on the hardwood floor.
"It's off." She stood at the opposite end of the coffee table from Rob, fists planted firmly on her hips.
"Sara, I..." Rob couldn't even start his sentence before she cut him off.
"Rob, I didn't know." She moved around the coffee table towards the end of the couch where Josh sat and shot an evil look at him. He scooted down to make room for her, and she sat beside him but facing away from him, looking directly at Rob. "I never wanted to hurt you."
She took his hands in hers, and waited until he made eye contact.
"I've been selfish," Sara said, staring deep into Rob's eyes. "I didn't realize you had any kind of feelings for me. I'm so sorry, Rob." Tears welled in her eyes.
"Sara, I don't..." again, Rob's protests were cut off.
"I heard you. Through the door. I heard what you said to Josh."
Rob looked quickly away, unable to bear her gaze. He looked back at her, but his eyes seemed to settle below her neck and then quickly dart away. He searched the floor as if he could find a response between the hardwood planks. His eyes again stopped on Sara, this time near her feet. He finally raised one hand to cover his eyes, whether to block the sight before him or cover any trace of emotion, Sara was unsure.
Sara tried to figure out what about her was bothering Rob. She remembered the hooker heels, then looked down and realized that in her haste to stop their conversation, she had neglected to fasten the top three buttons of her dress, and her black bustier was pushing her breasts up dangerously high, her cleavage far too exposed. Rob must have seen that and her heels and then looked away, embarrassed.
"Hey." Sara touched Rob's arm, hoping he'd drop his hand.
"You dressed up for us?" Rob spoke from behind his palm. "Crazy heels, stockings, bustier."
"Rob," Sara began, this time pulling his arm down and looking into his eyes, "this was supposed to be fun for all of us. I never wanted to hurt anyone."
"I know you didn't, and it's not like I don't want to. I just..." Rob leaned forward, then back again, defeated.
"Rob, I don't want you to do this." Sara leaned back on the couch and began buttoning the top of her dress. "I'm usually pretty good at telling when someone's attracted to me, but you kept your cards pretty close to your chest, huh?" She turned to Josh, anger in her eyes. "Someone could have clued me in."
"So now it's my fault?" Defiant innocence settled on Josh's face.
"You're a dick. You didn't even tell him what this was about until just now," Sara said, then turned back to Rob. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"I didn't want it to change our friendship. You're so much fun, we get along so well." Rob stopped, looked away. "I didn't want to risk losing that."
"Honey, you'll always be my friend. With benefits, if you want."
Rob's head jerked up, shock registering on his face.
"Or not," Sara said. "It's totally up to you."
"Wait a minute..." Rob looked confused, thrown off by her last comment.
"Rob, you know I like sex. I talk about it all the time. What makes you think I wouldn't want it with you?"
"I'll take the benefits," Josh chimed in, his grin widening.
Sara spun back towards Josh, her look pure venom. "You don't get them, you selfish prick. You knew how Rob felt. You were going to risk his feelings just so you could get laid."
"So whiny boy over here gets a piece and I don't?" Josh pushed up from the couch, his face turning red. "I was trying to do you a favor, and I get screwed." He rushed towards the door, opened it, and turned back. "Don't ask me for any more favors. Don't ask me for anything."
He stormed out into the hall, yelled "Whore!" and slammed the door.
Sara felt like crying. She knew she shouldn't let him get to her, but couldn't help it. She'd been called worse, many times, but not by friends. She hated when someone was mad at her, and this felt pretty final. Josh had never used that kind of language with her before, and she knew how long he held a grudge. Then there was Rob; where was their friendship going with the truth out in the open and Josh's temper tantrum right behind them.
"Are we ok?" Sara asked, turning back towards Rob.
Rob just looked at her. "Yeah." He shook his head, as if he could physically clear the confusion that seemed to be reigning there. "Yeah, we're fine. We're great."
"You're not mad at me?" Sara felt like she had to make sure, to know that he wasn't just reassuring her.
"Why would I be mad at you? I don't get why you'd want to let that asshole touch you, but other than that, we're fine." Rob grabbed his beer and took a huge gulp.
"Look, Rob, this has really been a terrible day. I've got to go." Sara stood and headed to the bathroom to get her bag. "You can take me up on those benefits anytime you want." She grabbed her bag from the counter and then headed back into the living room and towards the exit. "I just have to get some stuff sorted out in my head, ok?"
"Sara, wait." Rob approached her.
Sara turned back to him, expecting more drama, more arguments or problems, but instead he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight to him. His embrace was warm and strong, and she wrapped her arms around his back and held on. It was a longer hug than normal. When he finally released her, she kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"Sara..." Rob smiled, whatever thought he had been about to utter trailed off.
"Have fun in Charleston," Sara said, and walked out the door.