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"EIGHTEEN PERCENT!" I could hear my voice echoing through the cinderblock-walled laundry room.
"Eighteen percent is for nuns and small children. Eighteen percent is not for twenty-seven-year-old single girls living in Los Angeles."
Carla yanked open the dryer and started scooping her pinkish whites into her laundry basket. An hour ago, her whites had actually been white, but with Carla, these things tended to happen. "I still can't believe you're so upset just because you got a crappy score on some Internet Slut Test." She flashed me a look designed to underscore just how much she didn't believe I'd do something so foolish. Ridiculous, really, given that Carla had known me since kindergarten. I was Mattie Brown and she was Carla Browning, which meant that fate had pretty much destined that we'd sit beside each other in every class until graduation. Being relatively pragmatic, we figured we could either be best friends or vile enemies. We'd opted for the friend route. At the time, it had seemed the more prudent option.
Today, Carla was probably having second thoughts, a supposition that quickly proved true when she pulled out a pale pink bra and shook it at me. "You're as bad as you were in high school, only now you don't have Angie dogging your heels."
Angie is my stepsister, although the "step" part has never really been part of the equation for either one of us. We were both three when our parents married, and she's my sister, for good, bad or indifferent. And since we're separated by a mere four months (she's the eldest), we grew up sharing each other's clothes, coveting each other's boyfriends and busting tail to outdo each other academically, socially and every other way. I love her, but I've never stopped trying to beat her. And — damn the woman — the truth is that she usually beat me. In everything from boyfriends to grade point average. (In the latter, she edged by me with one grade point, taking the lead in our very last semester of high school, and wresting the valedictorian slot away from me. Not that I'm bitter or anything...)
I took a breath and tried to stop scowling. "I'm not trying to be the slut valedictorian. For that matter, it's not even really about the test. I mean, another test said my perfect job would be analyzing actuarial tables, and how ewww is that?"
"Very," she agreed, and we both paused for a moment, reveling in the mathematical horror. "But if it wasn't the test, then what?"
I shrugged. "The realization that came with it, I guess." I paused for emphasis, then spit out the horrible truth. "My sex life is boring."
Carla's perfectly plucked brows rose infinitesimally. "I thought you didn't have a sex life?"
So much for slipping one past Carla. "Fine. You win. My sex life was boring. Back when I was with Dex, it was duller than dirt. And now that I'm single again, it's not boring. It's nonexistent." Dex had dumped me about four months ago, a little fact that had pretty much blown me out of the water. We'd been together two years, and I expected we'd stay together, ending up with a marriage and two-point-five kids and a dog.
Yes, our sex life — and the rest of our relationship if you want to get right down to it — had been spiraling downward, but we were comfortable. Or, at least I'd thought we were.
But my dirty little secret? Even though I was blind-sided by the breakup, I wasn't all that disappointed. What I was, was angry. I should have been the dumper, not the dumpee. As it was, I'd completely lost face. With myself, even if with no one else.
With a dramatic sigh, I hefted an armful of white cotton undies out of my dryer, then frowned at the laundry basket, wishing it were filled with shocking bits of red satin and black lace. Underwear with a raison d'être more provocative than simply keeping my private parts hidden in the event of a catastrophic highway accident. Like every other normal mother on the planet, my high-powered attorney mom's list of constant worries placed clean underwear higher than poverty, nuclear war or starving children in China.
Too bad for me, Mom had taught me well. There wasn't a frivolous panty in the bunch. No satin, no lace, nothing even remotely Frederick's of Hollywood about my unmentionables. Not even Victoria's Secret. We're talking K-Mart all the way.
No wonder I wasn't a slut.
I sighed dramatically and leaned against the detergent dispenser. "My sex life is boring. My clothes are boring. My life is boring."
Carla frowned at another light pink shirt, then waved the hideous thing in my direction. "Want a pink tee?"
What I wanted was to strangle her. Here I was having a relatively dramatic personal crisis and she was ruining her laundry. "Have you even heard a word I've said?"
This time, she really did give me her attention, and frankly, considering her scowl, I wasn't certain I wanted it. "Look, Mattie — "
"I mean it. I'm going to do it. By this time next year, I'm blowing the roof off that stupid test."
This time, she raised only a single eyebrow, a trick I envied mightily.
"I'm serious. That's my New Year's resolution."
"There's an entire universe of possibilities out there, and you're wasting a perfectly good resolution on acing a sex test?"
"You want to say that a little louder? I'm not sure they heard you by the pool." I poked my head out the open laundry-room door, scanning for eavesdroppers. Katy Simmons, the retired actress who lived below me, was sunning on a lounge chair. The new tenant — Mike Something-or-other — was a bit closer. A genuinely nice guy, he was also the apartment complex's resident nerd, complete with wire-framed glasses and a job that had something to do with computers.
As I watched, I could see him settle himself in one of the incredibly uncomfortable metal chairs, kick his feet up onto a tabletop, and take a swig of beer. I took a breath, surprised that my nerdish neighbor had a mighty fine body, lean and firm like a swimmer. "Mike!" Carla half yelled. "Oh, Mikey! Mattie needs a boyfriend!"
"Carla!" I grabbed the knob and slammed the door shut. "Are you insane? What if he heard?"
"So what if he did? He's cute."
I scowled, because he was cute. He was nice, too. I'd helped him carry boxes up from his U-Haul, and he'd happily shared his pizza with me a week ago. But Dex had been cute and nice, too. Cute and nice didn't cut it anymore. Cute and nice conjured the dreaded R word, and I wasn't anywhere near ready to get back on that relationship hamster wheel. "I'm not looking for cute. Cute is for bunny rabbits. Not boy toys."
Another lift of that eyebrow of hers.
I sighed and tried to look put-upon. "You just don't understand. You're getting laid on a regular basis."
"So were you until you dumped Dex."
I shook my head vehemently, my ponytail whipping around to slap me in the face. "Oh, no, no, no my friend. I was only having sorta-sex."
She flashed me a skeptical look as she shook the wrinkles out of a pair of greyish-pink sweatpants. "I'm going to regret asking, but what is sorta-sex?"
"Oh. Well." She busied herself with neatly folding her now-ruined laundry, while I silently cheered myself for having a sex life so truly pathetic that I'd rendered Carla speechless. Scary, I know, but I take my victories where I find them.
"Well," she said again, and I felt my victory slipping away. True, I wanted her help. I just couldn't handle her pity. "That's not so bad," she finally said, in a you're-bankrupt-and-your-dog-died-but-it'll-be-okay kind of voice. "I mean, it was still sex, right?"
This from the woman whose boyfriend just might be a superhero named Erection-Man. Mitch would come over after work, see her puttering in her kitchen wearing a ratty T-shirt and gym socks, and get so turned-on he'd bend her over the table and have his way with her. "We live in different universes, Carla," I said.
To her credit, she looked a little sheepish. It wasn't as though she didn't realize how fabulous her sex life was. But then, Carla's one of those beautiful people. Perfect face, perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect job. No lumps, no bumps, not even a tiny acne scar. Smart, too. The kind of woman you'd want to kill if she weren't so darn nice. "Have you put any thought into when you're going to do the legwork necessary to reach this nirvana of sexual prowess?"
I made a face. Mostly because Carla was being typically Carla and reverting to what I call her adult-speak voice — which is what she does whenever she thinks anyone is acting like an idiot. But also because, frankly, I hadn't put any thought into my newly announced resolution.
"That's what I thought," Carla said, making me scowl even more. "I mean, come on, Mattie. You've been working like a fiend for months. This is your first weekend off in forever."
That was true enough. I work at John Layman Productions, and if the company sounds familiar, then you're probably one of those people who watches really bad reality programming about celebrities that no one cares about anymore. Not that I'm criticizing my boss's chosen field or anything (ahem). I mean, it pays the bills. But, honestly, does anyone really care about kids who were celebrities when they were six, then fell off the map during the last two decades? And if somebody does care enough to tune in every night at eleven, then, you know, maybe that person just needs to get a life.