The Prettiest Girls in the World Live in Des Moines (Part Two)

THIS IS PART 2. FOR PART 1, CLICK THE LINK BELOW.

Chapter One

Wednesday, August, 13, 1997

Laura drummed her fingers on the end of the armrest — pinky, ring, middle, index, pinky, ring, middle, index, over and over. Her thumb maintained constant contact, rooting her hand to the armrest. Her right leg bounced up and down with nervous tension. She stared out the window and saw the tell-tale signs of civilization becoming more and more frequent, a building here, a stoplight there. This, following a long stretch of nondescript and vacant desert, meant one thing. “Next stop, Albuquerque,” she thought as the train thundered along.

She had boarded the Southwest Chief in Los Angeles the previous day around six in the evening. It trundled through the desert all night — excepting the dozen or so stops — and now, a little past eleven a.m. local time, it was closing in on downtown Albuquerque. Laura contemplated making a fifth trip to the smoking car. She could bum a smoke from another traveler in exchange for some suggestive flirting. That’s all it took. Actually, it took even less than that, she just enjoyed the flirting enough to add it to the mix as a bonus. Wearing denim shorts — very short ones at that — as she was, it was such a simple thing to cross her legs, and allow her knee to graze a nice man’s hand. Even easier was the ability to raise her arms overhead, and thanks to the cut of her loose, linen blouse, expose just enough of her midriff to cause a man to stammer and lose his train of thought mid sentence.

She decided to wait because she wasn’t sure exactly how long it would be until they arrived. She didn’t want to spend any unnecessary seconds aboard the train. She had grown to despise it somewhere in Arizona. She hated the bizarre mixture of smells, the constant humming noise, the gentle swaying, the fact she couldn’t smoke at her seat. Everything. She decided that she would wait and smoke one of her own cigarettes at the station while waiting for Susan, her older sister, to pick her up.

After some time, the train eased into the station. Laura was irritated. There would have been plenty of time for another trip to the smoking car. Nevertheless, she collected her effects, a portable CD player with headphones and a CD wallet, two magazines, some snacks, and a hardcover copy of Alex Garland’s The Beach in her canvas tote bag, and made her way up the aisle and off the train. Stepping outside into the midday sun, the eighty degree air stung her skin upon first contact. The sun also caused her to squint to the point of not being able to see much of anything at all. After a brief adjustment period, she found her wheeled suitcase on the platform and proceeded to make her way toward the street.

On the curb in front where there would normally be a station, she put on her gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, granting her eyes sweet relief from the unrelenting sun, and lit a cigarette. She turned around to look at the scene. She remembered overhearing a native Albuquerquean in the smoking car telling another passenger about how the old station had burnt down a few years before. For now, Amtrak had a small building at the site and not much else. She enjoyed her cigarette, but was beginning to squirm under the heat of the sun. “Come on, Susan,” she pleaded silently.

Several minutes later, Susan stopped her six year old, navy blue with faux wood panel trim Jeep Cherokee Briarwood in front of Laura, who was fanning her face with her hand. Susan hopped out of the car and rushed around to give Laura a hug.

“Don’t touch me!” Laura took a step backwards. “It’s too damn hot for that shit.”

“Oh, don’t be a baby,” Susan admonished her. “C’mon.” She motioned Laura toward the rear of the car.

With Laura’s suitcase safely stowed in the cargo area, and both women buckled into the front seats, Susan pulled the Jeep out into traffic and headed through the city.

“How was the train?” Susan asked. She was curious, she had never travelled by train before.

“I don’t know,” Laura grumbled, “fine, better than a bus, worse than driving.”

“Well, would you recommend it? Maybe I’ll take it to visit you sometime when things get back to normal.”

“Eh,” Laura shrugged, “I’d just drive.”

“Okay.”

A few moments passed without any further interaction.

“If you wanted to ride the train,” Laura piped up, “you should’ve met me in LA, and we could’ve gone from there.”

“Why would I go from Albuquerque to Iowa through Los Angeles?”

“Because it’d take that much longer to get there.”

Susan applied the brakes for a red light. “Good point.”

The light turned green and she depressed the accelerator. “So, the estate sale people are going to be setting up on Thursday,” Susan talked just to fill the silence. “We’ve got to go through everything quick. You can keep anything you want, but anything that’s left gets sold.”

“What if no one wants his crap?”

“Well,” Susan was already tense. She’d be spending the next two weeks with Laura, both of them under a lot of stress. This was a decidedly inauspicious beginning. “It’ll be a miracle if we both survive this,” she thought. “The stuff that doesn’t sell,” Susan spoke, “depending on what it is, can be thrown out, donated, or whatever. We’ll figure it out.”

“Or,” Laura stretched out the word extra long, “we just burn the house down and never go back to Iowa again.”

I need the money,” Susan was being pragmatic, but secretly loved the idea. “Even if it’s not much, I need whatever there is.”

“Yeah, I guess the money’ll make this worth it. Any idea how much?”

“The lawyer was guessing that we’d each get like a hundred grand. Maybe, that’s the high estimate. And it’s before taxes and everything.” Susan hesitated. “You know, he wasn’t rich or anything, he never had money lying around, but that land by itself is pretty valuable.”

“Where did the farm come from in the first place?”

“You know Grandma Marilyn, his mom?”

“Yeah.”

“Her father, I think his name was Thomas Dutton, he gave her and Joshua Unser the land when they got married.”

“When was that?” Laura was trying to keep it all straight, but struggling.

“I don’t know,” Susan too was frustrated by the topic, “probably around the mid-thirties, I guess.”

“So what happened…” Laura stopped mid sentence after seeing the way Susan was glaring at her. “Never mind.”

“I’m sure we’ll find a bunch of stuff at the house that will answer all these questions,” Susan reassured her. “He probably wrote a book all about it.”

“Speaking of which, what do you think is the most satisfying way to destroy a typewriter?” Laura asked with a devilish smile.

“Oh god!” Susan exclaimed. “The typewriter. The loudest typewriter ever made!”

“Click, click, clack, click, clack, click, ding, rrrrunph.” Laura raised her hands and imitated the sounds of typing prompting both of them to burst into laughter.

Susan parked the car in the lot of an apartment complex. The buildings were all identical — two story Mission revival style with tan stucco exteriors. And of course, the roofs were red Spanish tile. Laura bristled at the sight. It was such a cliché, overused and meaningless, not historical and authentic.

“Cool place,” Laura announced out of politesse as Susan dragged her suitcase out of the Jeep, dropping it to the ground with a thud.

“Jesus! You overpacked.”

Susan led Laura, dragging her own heavy suitcase, up a set of stairs and unlocked the apartment door. Inside, Laura looked around at the modest single bedroom apartment. It was modestly furnished, as would be expected for a twenty seven year old only just solidifying a foothold in a professional career.

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in comparative literature, Susan had accepted a job in Kansas City, working for Hallmark. She helped write and translate greeting cards. After two years of that, and with Laura having moved to California, Susan felt free to move farther away from Iowa. She took a job as an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Albuquerque and had been there, enjoying it, ever since.

“So…” Laura said, unsure of the plan.

“We’ll hit the road first thing in the morning,” Susan explained, “I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to do tonight. And my boyfriend is coming over for dinner, you’ll get to meet him.”

Laura plopped herself down on the sofa. “Anything to do around here?”

“Not really,” Susan moved around the apartment tending to her things.

Laura turned to a cheap, six foot tall, five shelf bookcase and looked at the spines of the books. She had read about a quarter of the books, mainly the classics, and was not interested in the rest, except for two or three.

“There’s a pool,” Susan proposed, “if you just want to chill out.”

“I think you mean burn up,” Laura quipped.

“It’s not that bad, you’ll get used to it in no time.”

“Yeah, I could use some sun,” Laura stood up and walked to the bookcase, and plucked a hardbound copy of The Ice Storm from it. “I’m borrowing this,” she waved the book in the air before tossing it into her tote bag.

“It’s good,” Susan affirmed.

Laura pulled her blouse off over her head and draped it on the back of couch. She quickly wriggled out of her shorts and teal panties, and leaving them on the floor walked stark naked through the apartment. “I need a shower first.”

“Right there,” Susan pointed at a door in the hallway, unfazed by her naked sister. “What’s that?” she asked noticing the tattoo adorning the left side of Laura’s rib cage. It was text, in ornate script, arranged in four lines — three words, one word, three words, one word.

“Huh?”

“The tattoo, what is it?”

Laura halted, turned her body, and raised her arm up to shoulder level to give Susan a clear view of it. “’What I want back is what I was.’”

Susan’s heart sank upon hearing the words, but she tried with fiber of her being not to react in a outwardly noticeable way. “That’s Sylvia Plath, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool,” Susan said with a little bit of feigned enthusiasm. “So, towels are in there, on the rack. There’s a big bottle on sunscreen too. Use a ton of it or you will burn.”

“Got a suit I can borrow?”

“Yeah, I’ll grab one for you.”

Laura entered the bathroom and closed the door.

Susan staggered to the small kitchen table and slumped down into one of the chairs. She folded her arms on the table in front of her and lowered her face into the cradle they created. Within seconds she was weeping uncontrollably.

After several minutes, she began to pull herself together, piece by piece. “Don’t jump to any conclusions,” she thought, “it could mean anything.” She stood up and using a decorative wall mirror wiped away her tears and tried to removes all trace of her crying. Once she managed to regain her composure, she continued on with her business.

She grabbed a bikini from her dresser and tossed it onto the couch with Laura’s things, then dragged her own suitcase out of the closet and began packing clothes into it. It was August, so shorts and tank tops were the natural choices. After a bit of consideration, she decided to pack one of her other bikinis as well, just in case.

It would take two days to drive to Earlham, Iowa. Once there, they would have four days to go through everything in their childhood home before the estate sale crew came in to put price tags on everything the girls didn’t want. The sale itself would take place two days after that. Once the house was emptied out, it would be left to a realtor to sell. Susan was planning on being away for about two weeks, including travel time.

Laura emerged from the bathroom drying her hair as she stepped into Susan’s bedroom. “So, no offense or anything,” she seemed to be thinking out loud, “but is your P.O.S. car going to be able get us there and back? It’s like a thousand miles away, isn’t it?”

“Shut up,” Susan replied, “I love my car. It has never let me down.” She paused for a moment. “And anyway, would it really be so bad if we didn’t get there?”

Laura smiled. “I guess not. I was worried more about being stuck in Kansas, but now that you mention it, that is better than Earlham.”

“I put a bikini out on the couch for you,” Susan added as Laura exited the room.

“Thanks, mom,” Laura answered back, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

Laura entered the pool area and looked around, taking stock of the scene. A Mexican woman bobbed in the water with an infant clutched to her breast. Two middle aged men sat on deck chairs on opposite sides of the pool with their white, pudgy bellies on display for all to see. “Probably divorced dads,” she thought. She was surprised by the lack of loud, screaming, out of control children, but pleasantly so. “Has school already started here?” she wondered. “No, that can’t be it. They’re probably not allowed to swim without an adult around.”

She draped a towel over a lounger and set her tote bag down next to it. Before sitting down she stretched her arms over her head and slowly bending down to touch her toes, showing off all angles of her lithe body. As she sat down, she could see from behind her sunglasses that she had caught the attention of the man across the way. She smiled at him before reclining on the lounger and casually splaying her legs apart giving him an enticing view. She pulled the book out of her bag and raised it up to her face. Just under the bottom edge, she could see the man leering at her. She opened her legs wider still.

Back in the apartment, Susan dragged her suitcase out of the bedroom and parked it near the front door. She then raided the kitchen, gathering a variety of snack foods into two plastic grocery bags and dropped them next to the suitcase. After pausing for a few minutes, she turned to her book case and stared at it. “There are plenty of books at the house,” she considered, “but on the road…” She crossed the room and pulled out a ragged copy of Jane Eyre. She peeled open the cover and saw the forty-seven tally marks made in a mixture of pencil lead and blue and black inks. “Forty-seven,” she thought. “Damn,” she was amazed for some reason.

Ever since she was seven years old and reading proficiently on her own, she had always tallied each time she completed a book. He had taught her that. He said that it was a tribute to the book to mark in it. Passages were meant to be highlighted or underlined. Margins existed so that notes could be scribbled in them. And that blank page just inside the cover, the flyleaf, that was there to mark each time a book had been read. The re-readability of great books are what separate them from the good books. He always said that the best books in his collection had zero white space left in them. She had carried on most of his traditions.

She turned the tally page, and looked at the handwritten inscription on the other side of it. It was scrawled elegantly, with a fine fountain pen, she knew exactly the one, and had an amateur calligraphy look to it.

To my darling Susan on her twelfth birthday. May you always find guidance and wisdom in these pages and others. Timeless words for a timeless world. And unlike people, they will never fail you or abandon you. As Papa said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” — Your loving father.

Susan felt a chill reading the words and snapped the book closed. She extended her arm to return the book to its slot on the shelf, but stopped just short of it. She turned and carried the book across the room and set it atop her suitcase.

At the pool, Laura set her book down. She was already seventy-five pages into its roughly three hundred page length. Rather than deal with aberrant or arbitrary chapter breaks, she always read books in seventy five page chunks. It typically took her less than an hour to accomplish, and she had discovered that most books were perfect for it. A one hundred and fifty page novella would fit neatly in two sittings. A two hundred and twenty-fave page short novel, three. The typical three hundred page novel, an even four. And even a behemoth such as War and Peace could be handled in just seventeen sessions. Most importantly though, she had learned that if you only ever stop reading on page seventy-five, one-fifty, two-twenty-five, three hundred, etc., then you could never lose your place, and bookmarks were completely unnecessary.

She could still feel the man’s eyes on her body as she stood up and walked to the edge of the pool. The sun made the concrete nearly unbearable underfoot, and the arid heat had caused her to become lathered with sweat. She glistened and sparkled as she moved around. She sat down at the edge of the pool feeling the searing heat on her rear end and dangling her scorched feet in the water. After a moment of this, she gracefully lowered herself all the way into pool where she proceeded to float on her back and be ogled by the man who was almost without a doubt hiding an erection in his trunks.

As she floated, the pool and surrounding area grew more and more crowded. Parents arriving home from work were bringing their children out for some afternoon fun. The noise and splashing irritated Laura, and before long she had had enough. It was time for her to leave. Dripping wet, she gathered her things and walked the long way around the pool passing the lecherous man. She removed her sunglasses and hooked them on the center of the bikini top between her breasts as she approached him. She made direct eye contact and asked, “Enjoy the show?” as she walked by without stopping. The man was flustered and failed to mount any coherent response. She did this in part to shame the man for his behavior, but also to titillate herself by acknowledging that she’d done everything on purpose with the intention of turning him on. She pictured him reclining on his bed in his sad divorced dad apartment, his shorts around his ankles, masturbating fervently and spouting his semen onto his pasty belly — all while thinking of her. She smiled and turned over her shoulder, “Have fun,” she said with a flirtatious smile.

She entered the apartment to find Susan busying herself in the kitchen.

“Have fun?” Susan asked, grabbing the towel from her shoulder and using it wipe her hands clean.

“I guess,” Laura responded, dropping her tote on the couch. She then reached behind her back and untied the bikini, allowing it hang loosely from her around her neck.

“You can take that with us if you want,” Susan mentioned as she grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge. “Beer?”

“Sure,” Laura walked into the kitchen, “Why would I need a bikini?”

“I don’t know,” Susan grabbed a second bottle and passed one to Laura. “I thought maybe you might want to go to the pond one last time, or just lay out or something.”

Laura grinned. “I don’t think I ever wore a bathing suit in the pond.”

“Yeah,” Susan took a drink, “Well, I’m just offering.”

“Okay,” Laura pulled the wet bikini top over her head and held it loosely in her hand. “What’s for dinner?”

“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner,” they both said at the same time, mocking the ongoing ad campaign by the Beef Council, and voiced by the recently deceased Robert Mitchum. They both giggled a bit, remembering the little joys of sisterhood.

“I was prepping some salad fixings,” Susan added as an afterthought. “I’d planned on just making some hamburgers. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sounds good, I’m taking another shower. I hate the smell of chlorine on me.” Laura walked towards the bathroom, taking a drink along the way.

“Don’t come out naked,” Susan warned, “Greg will be here any time.”

Laura draped both parts of the bikini over the front edge of the vanity, partially in the sink, and examined her skin in the mirror. There was a faint line marking where the bikini had covered her breasts, with the exposed areas bearing an undeniable pink glow. “Strong sun,” she thought.

She stepped into the shower and turned the water on, cool at first to cool her warm skin down, then she increased the temperature to a steamy heat. She thought about the man at the pool again. She pictured him masturbating, then inserted herself into his bedroom. She teased him and insulted him as he laid on the bed clutching his manhood, holding on to it for dear life. Then she showed him her naked body, increasing his arousal, but still she berated him. Then she began touching him, running her fingers through his chest hair and squeezing his flabby tits. His dick twitched and pulsed in his hand. Next, she pulled his hand away from his cock and grabbed it for herself. The man moaned in hopeful anticipation, it had been such a long time since any woman had wanted him. She threw her leg over him and lowered herself down, inviting him into her. He came immediately. Laura began to climax as well, sitting in the bathtub rubbing herself as the hot water stung her skin and the steam made it harder to breathe. The combination of a disgusting fantasy, physical pain, and a lack of oxygen had always given her the best orgasms.

Meanwhile, Susan had taken a seat at her kitchen table. She stared at nothing in particular while spinning her beer bottle on its base. She wore a look of sorrow that was often mistaken by others for boredom. Her twenty-seven year old face was aging faster than it should, with wrinkles already beginning to form. She was beautiful though, a beautiful thirty-something.

The front door of the apartment opened, and Greg stepped through it. He wore a grey, off-the-rack, polyester suit, and the collar of his shirt was opened three buttons down, his tie loosened to the point of slovenliness. His face glistened with sweat. “Hey, babe,” he said looking at Susan.

She was too spaced out to respond.

Greg closed the door and walked straight to her and sat at the table. “Hey, you okay?”

Susan snapped out of it with a jerk and shook her head. “Oh hey,” she reached out to hug him and pecked his cheek. “I was just thinking,” she mumbled into his ear. “You ready for dinner now, or want to wait a while?”

“We can wait,” Greg said, still concerned with her state. “Is your sister around?”

“She’s in the shower. She spent the afternoon at the pool.”

“Cool, I’m excited to meet her.”

“Listen, Greg,” Susan took a serious tone, “Laura’s a bit…” She struggled to come up with an apt description. “She can be kind of in your face, not in a bad way, she just doesn’t care what anyone thinks. So, if she says or does something… Just don’t take any of it personally, okay? She’s kind of difficult.”

Just then the bathroom door opened and Laura emerged, her torso wrapped in a towel.

“You must be Laura,” Greg stood to greet her. “It’s great to finally meet you.” He was chipper and smiling as he extended his hand to her.

Laura stopped halfway across the apartment, unsure of whether to continue on to her suitcase full of clothes or stop and chat with Greg.

“I’m Greg,” he added, also unsure of the situation.

“Yeah, I’m naked,” Laura pointed at the towel, “and I was told not to be naked around you, so…” She turned and walked to her suitcase and awkwardly knelt down on the floor to gather up some clothes.

Greg looked as Susan. He was dumbfounded.

Susan shrugged.

After a moment, and without another word, Laura retreated to the bathroom, her clothes clutched against her body, and closed the door.

“What was that about?” Greg said aloud with a chuckle as he opened the fridge and grabbed a beer.

“She doesn’t mind being naked around people,” Susan tried to explain. “I told her you were coming before she got in the shower so she wouldn’t wander out here naked.”

“Nothing wrong with that, I suppose,” Greg posited as he sat back down. “Being naked, I mean… Just generally.”

Susan raised an eyebrow, uncertain as to whether she should read into the remark or let it slide. “I’ve got more important things to worry about,” she thought, “this is not worth my energy.”

Susan stood in the kitchen cooking the hamburgers as Greg and Laura sat across from each other at the table nursing beers.

“What kind of work do you do?” Greg asked her.

“Whatever comes along,” Laura responded, she was being vague on purpose.

“Laura does some acting and modeling when she can,” Susan said raising her voice over the sizzling of the meat. “But waitresses as a day job.”

“Whatever comes along,” Laura repeated slower than before.

“That’s cool,” Greg commented in an attempt to mask his discomfort with Laura.

“What do you do, Greg?” Laura asked leaning forward on the table.

“I’m an assistant manager at a bank.”

Laura didn’t think enough of his answer to respond. She just leaned back in her chair.

Susan set a plate of hamburger patties down on the table and took her seat between Greg and Laura. “Help yourselves.”

A quiet moment passed, then Laura spoke up. “’One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’”

“Hear, hear,” Susan smiled and raised her bottle to Laura who responded in kind and tapped it with her own. Susan then turned to Greg, who was sitting there lost. “That’s from A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf,” she explained to him.

“Oh,” he nodded.

“What’s your favorite book, Greg?” Laura demanded.

“Aw, well, geez, I don’t know,” he stammered, caught off guard. “Nineteen Eighty-Four maybe.”

Laura rolled her eyes in silent judgment.

“Is something wrong with Nineteen Eighty-Four?”

Susan bit her tongue, uncertain of what Laura would do.

“It’s fine,” Laura mumbled, “if you’re into violent misogyny, an incomplete comprehension of the nature of language and a coma-inducing style.”

“Wait,” Greg bristled, “so you’re saying that anyone that reads Nineteen Eighty-Four is a misogynist?”

“No, but they are at least indifferent to it.”

“So you’ve never read a single book containing themes that you are against?”

“No, I like to challenge my worldview, but I never cite those books as my favorites.”

“To be fair,” Susan inserted herself between them, “you did put him on the spot, and he said ‘maybe’.”

The three settled into a momentary ceasefire around the table.

“I’ll admit,” Greg was still irritated, “I’m not as well read as you two. So, what are your favorites? What should I read?”

“Susan will say Jane Eyre,” Laura beat her to the punch, “which is fine.” She stopped to think for a moment, “I’d say, you, Greg, should check out either The Bell Jar, or since you’re a banker, The People of the Abyss.”

Greg glanced around searching for a clue to tell him how to feel about the recommendations.

“Yes to the first two,” Susan added, “skip the third, it’s a relic of a bygone era.”

“Yeah, because poverty has been eliminated,” Laura raised her voice sarcastically.

“East End poverty of 1903 has been largely dealt with!” Susan matched the increased volume.

“I’m so lost right now,” Greg attempted to defuse the tension.

“It’s fine,” Susan softened her tone, “we always have these spirited dinner debates. I seem to remember them being more fun when you were twelve and didn’t know anything though,” she pointed at Laura with a smile.

After dinner, Susan washed the dishes while Greg helped by drying them. After stepping outside for a cigarette, Laura curled up on the couch to read more of The Ice Storm. The apartment was calm and tranquil.

“You weren’t kidding about her,” Greg whispered into Susan’s ear. “She’s intense.”

“Well, we’ve been through a lot,” Susan reasoned. “I was at least old enough to make some sense out of most it. She was just five…”

“You’re a lot alike though,” Greg tried to steer the conversation. “Like the reading, I’ve never met two people that read the way you two do.”

“You go spend eighteen years in Earlham in a house full of books, you’d read them all too.”

“Sure, but you’re both still at it. You could stop…”

“No,” Susan sighed with heavy sadness, “it’s a part of us.” Susan drained the sink and rinsed the soap from her hands. “I need to get some rest,” she added as she walked out of the kitchen.

“Laura, you need anything?” she asked in the living room.

“Nah, I’m good,” Laura responded without taking her eyes off the book.

“All right, I’m going to bed. Help yourself to whatever.”

“How early are we leaving?” Laura asked.

“Early, but not like the crack of dawn,” Susan was noncommittal. “I hadn’t really planned it out.”

“Fine just wake me up with plenty of time to get ready.”

“I will. Goodnight.” Susan turned to walk towards the bedroom.

Greg, who had stood and watched the entire exchange then took his turn. “It was nice to meet you,” he said.

“Thanks,” Laura replied, still not looking up from the book.

He shot her an indignant smile that she didn’t see before walking away shaking his head.

Once in bed, Greg snuggled up behind Susan, groping her body and kissing her neck. She ignored him at first, but his persistence became overwhelming. She pushed him back and scooted away.

“I need to sleep,” Susan protested.

“We haven’t done it since… Jesus, since before you went to the funeral,” Greg reminded her, “and now you’re leaving again.”

“I haven’t exactly been in the mood,” Susan was offended.

In the living room, Laura was able to hear the murmurs through the walls, but was unable to distinguish any of the words. She was closing in on page two hundred and twenty-five, her next stopping point. The book was only two hundred and seventy-nine pages long. Finishing it before going to sleep was possible for her, it was simply a matter of whether she would decide to or opt to save it for the next day.

“Come on, it will be another two weeks before I see you again,” Greg pled his case while continuing to encroach on Susan who was clinging to the edge of the bed. “It’s not normal for a couple like us not to be having sex.”

“I’m not very normal, I told you that,” Susan lashed.

“No one’s normal, I get that, but this is just something I need.”

As she read the last line of the last complete paragraph on page two-twenty-five, Laura allowed the book to closed loosely on her thumb. She was still trying to decide whether or not to continue. She listened to the murmurs in the meantime. They rose and fell in volume, sometimes with abruptness, other times they slowly ramped up. She hoped they weren’t arguing — if it was an argument, it was a piss-poor one. Whenever Laura had argued with a lover nobody in the building was left with any question as to what was going on and why.

Then came a prolonged silence. Laura thought that maybe they had gone to sleep. “Are they like one of those sitcom couples that kissed goodnight and switched off the lamp before rolling over asleep?” she wondered. Then she heard the most unmistakeable noise imaginable.

Men having sex in the missionary position tend to always sound the same. Their breathing becomes labored from both performing all the movement and supporting their body weight at the same time. Then the pleasure filled moans begin. Steady, deep, rhythmic breathing interspersed with phrases like “Oh baby” and “Feels good”. It was Laura’s experience that they all basically sounded alike under those circumstances.

As she listened, she could feel herself becoming more and more aroused. Greg was a handsome guy, a bit more clean-cut than she preferred. She closed her eyes and pictured him atop of Susan. She dropped the book to the floor in order to free her hand to rub her neck, chest, and breasts. Her other hand untied the drawstring of her shorts and slid down inside of her panties.

After her urges had been satisfied, and she recovered her senses, Laura stepped out of the apartment for another cigarette. She took the book with her and continued reading in the porch area.

The apartment door opened startling Laura, and Susan stepped out. “Hey, there you are,” she said as though finding a lost child.

“Want one?” Laura pointed her lit cigarette at the pack on the floor next to her.

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t. Greg would freak out.”

“What’s up?” Laura asked, again not looking up from the book.

“I just came out for some water and you were gone, just wanted to check on you.” Susan hung around as if she didn’t want to go back inside. “Looks like you’re almost done, there.”

“Yep. I’ll probably have another smoke and finish it out here before going to sleep.”

“Okay,” Susan knew she was being rude by not respecting Laura’s reading. “Cool. I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight.” Susan slipped back through the door.

“Night,” Laura said just before the door shut.

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