Chapter One - How I Found the Best Sex Ever: A Sara Strong Mystery

 

     THIS WAS THE NIGHT I KNEW my boyfriend would propose marriage. But that was still hours away and my living room resembled Tornado Alley.

     I surveyed the scene, arms akimbo, and tried to find the shopping bag from Victoria's Secret. I had bought a sexy pink-and-black bra and skimpy matching panties that morning, but could not find them. I saw plenty of debris from my chaotic life, however.

     On a small table immediately inside the doorway, a babel of unopened correspondence cascaded onto the floor. My frustration over the missing lingerie was compounded by knowledge that bills—and checks with which I could pay them—lay strewn and neglected below the mail slot. I noticed a funny smell, too. Maybe my pal Charlie had sent me another box of Wisconsin cheese that languished unopened somewhere in the living room.

     It didn't help my frayed nerves that a Coast Guard helicopter was sweeping over Venice Beach, making its daily run between Malibu and San Pedro. In an area with hundreds of miles of popular beaches, a regular chopper check was a necessary precaution against boats capsizing, swimmers drowning, and smugglers landing. There were certain disadvantages to living near the Los Angeles coastline, but the ‘copter surveillance noise was a small price to pay.

    "Omigod," I said, pausing a beat before enunciating each word slowly: "Oh—my—god."

    Then I did what I always do in overwhelming situations. I picked up my cell and tapped the thumbnail picture of my younger sister, Samantha.

    "What's wrong, Sara?" she asked, without introduction. Her gravelly voice betrayed a raucous post-puberty period of Jack Daniels, unfiltered Camels, one-night stands, stadium concerts, and questionable tattoos.

    "I'm a complete mess," I whimpered, blinking back the saltwater sting of emergent tears while ignoring a swelling lump in my throat.

    "Well, Ms. Strong, that's a surprise."

    Sam's wry sarcasm was always expected. Little sis was referring to my life-long habit of getting in over my head and at the last minute turning to her for help. During our teen years in Pacific Palisades my sister wasn't much comfort, given her own addiction to excess, but after a second round of rehab during her late twenties we made a solemn promise to be there for one another no matter what. At that point—it should be noted—there were few other candidates.

    "I need you to watch my back," Sam had confessed during our long drive back to L.A.’s West Side from Rancho Mirage. "Ditto," I replied softly. We clenched hands and vowed never to let one another down.

    Samantha is my emotional tourniquet. Our banter includes lines like these: “Of course you’re not fat, sister, don’t make me laugh!” Or—“Going for the doctor about that itty-bitty lump in your left breast? Well, I’m coming, too!”

    My sister invariably lowers my stress hormones. She is the most basic unit of my social network. She controls my blood pressure better than any diuretic. What can I tell you? I love Sam fiercely.

    "I simply cannot find that stuff I told you I bought at Victoria’s Secret,” I whined. “And to think I spent two hours and two-hundred bucks in that freakin’ store. I swear I’ve seen enough pink to last me for the rest of my life."

    Sam exhaled a skeptical breath. "This isn't about underwear, Sara. Or time. Or money. It's about Julio."

    Now it was my turn to confess. At 34, I'm three years older than Samantha but not half as intuitive. I'm twice as practical, which should make us even. My yang to her yin. If she weren't a blood relative—and a girl—I knew I'd be better off marrying her than my dreamboat Latin lover, Julio.

    "I'm still not sure what to say when he asks me. Do you think losing that bag is a sign?"

    "Of what? That you don't want to get your stud muffin hotter than a stallion and screw his brains out—or that you don't want to spend the rest of your life sharing the bed of this man, and that of no other?"

    Sam, the person who knew, appreciated, and loved me best, always saw the elephant in the room. More importantly, she talked about it. I swept my moldering gym clothes off a chair and sat down. I knew this would take a while.

    "Where do I start?"

    I said this more to myself than to her.

    "You're the storyteller, chica," Samantha said, reminding me with these four words that a five o'clock deadline ominously loomed like a guillotine above my head. Late that afternoon I was supposed to file the first draft of a profile my Los Angeles Times editor had assigned to me of Mauna Quinn, the secretive actress I'd been pursuing for months. Unfortunately, Ms. Quinn—now living in New Mexico obscurity—had been uncooperative and my story for the Sunday magazine of the Times was a disappointing hodge-podge of quotes from second-hand sources, factoids gleaned via Google searches, dubious summations rewritten from Wikipedia, and loose ends dangling from my recent research trip to the Land of Enchantment. What I had come up with was embarrassingly unprofessional. Worse, it didn't come close to explaining why one of the hottest movie stars of the 2000s had withdrawn from the world and become the object of more speculation than Michael Jackson's sex practices.

    At least we knew Jackson was dead, the truth about his alleged proclivities buried with him. Quinn was still alive, rattling around in a desert hideaway, her secrets guarded behind a 12-foot-high barrier and a hired entourage of skilled gatekeepers. I needed this pressure like Obama needed the Tea Party.

    "I think I should cancel dinner tonight," I whimpered, the cry of a petulant toddler.

    "Again?" Samantha blurted in genuine surprise. "Dis boy no gonnah lak dat. Fu true?"

    "Yah, too true," I agreed.

    We began lapsing into Belizean Creole during our pre-rehab vacation together on Ambergris Caye. This private language never failed to take the edge off. I immediately pictured us in bikinis perched atop stools at a Caribbean beach bar, getting shit-faced as sun-bronzed scuba divers circled like sharks, eager for an opening. The divers never penetrated our defenses—or anything else—but the brazen flirting was enormous fun.

    “You vex Julio,” Sam warned, “an’ dat boy he gon fly lak Fruit Loop bird."

    "You correc’, baby sistah, so mo bettah I talk story dat boy."

    "Always an’ all ways," Sam affirmed.

    I managed a weak smile, took a deep breath, and squinted at the far corner of my couch, where I'd tossed my oversized Coach purse and Ray-Bans upon returning from my afternoon spree at the mall. One tiny, tattered corner of a flamingo-colored shopping bag revealed itself. Who knows? Maybe this was a sign, too.

 

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