Unzipped

By: Lois Greiman

To Nancy Yost, the perfect agent





Acknowledgments



Special thanks to Mary L., psychologist extraordinaire, whose spunk and intelligence has inspired and enlightened me.





1

Some people are street-smart, some people are book-smart, but most people are just dumber than dirt.

—Chrissy (Mac) McMullen,

upon finding her boyfriend in the backseat of her Mazda with a majorette





MR. HOWARD LEPINSKI was an intelligent man. He was well educated, articulate, and precise. Unfortunately, he was about two aces short of a full deck.

“So what’s your opinion?” he asked, peering at me through thick-lensed spectacles. He was a little man with a twitch, a mustache, and a strangely unquenchable need to discuss, in minute, droning detail, every decision that crossed his path.

I looked him full in the face. Dr. Candon, my psych professor, had once said he couldn’t possibly overemphasize the importance of looking patients full in the face. It filled them with, and I quote here: “. . . the soothing reassurance that they have your undivided attention, not unlike that of a mother suckling her newborn.” Perhaps I should consider the possibility that Dr. Candon had a few issues of his own, I thought.

“Ms. McMullen?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lepinski,” I said, using my much-practiced nurturing tone. It was as far as I was willing to go on the suckling mother scenario. “I’m not certain I fully comprehend your question.” The truth was, I’d become a smidgen distracted, but it was closing in on seven o’clock and I hadn’t eaten since noon when I’d had a carton of cherry yogurt and a somewhat dehydrated orange. And if we’re going to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t call that eating. It was merely something I did to prevent my mouth from committing suicide before dinnertime. On the other hand, the roll of flab that had engulfed my midriff since I’d kicked the nicotine habit . . . again . . . had become a rather ponderous problem and now threatened to droop over my waistband like rising bread dough—white, not wheat.

In some ways my life had been simpler as a cocktail waitress. True, delivering drinks to the town of Schaumburg’s intoxicated populace had been hell on my bunion  s, and the propositions sent my way were often punctuated by belching of competition caliber, but at least in Chicago I’d had propositions. L.A. men were of a different breed. Which was what I had been hoping for, of course, but still . . .

“The sandwiches,” Mr. Lepinski repeated. There were, I noticed, several droplets of sweat on his forehead. “Should I take pastrami or ham to work?”

I considered his luncheon dilemma with all due sobriety, but feared my sagacious expression might have been ruined by my rumbling gut. “Perhaps,” I said forcefully, doing my best to drown out the sounds of impending starvation, “the question is not so much what you should take for lunch, but why you are so concerned about what you should take for lunch.”

“What?” His mustache twitched like hamster whiskers, and he blinked at me, as if distracted from a run on his exercise wheel.

“I mean . . .” I steepled my fingers. I’d seen Kelsey Grammer do it on Frasier once and thought it looked pretty classy. Classy was good. Even now I regretted the less-than-classy splotch where I’d dropped cherry goop on my silk blouse. It was a burnt-umber color and matched the freshly refurbished hue of my hair. The blouse, that is, not the splotch. Elaine, my part-time secretary and full-time friend, had suggested trying club soda on the stain, but now I wondered if I couldn’t just suck the stuff out of the fabric until I found something more substantial to sustain me. “Perhaps you should give some thought to why you’re obsessing about sandwiches,” I finished, nodding with ruminative intellect.

His twitching stopped abruptly, and his bird-bright eyes flickered toward the door and back as if he were considering flying the coop. “I am not obsessing,” he said. His lips were pursed, his tone stilted, and in that moment I doubted he would have been more insulted if I had suggested his mother had, in fact, belonged to another species. Touchy! Still, it wasn’t good to offend one’s clients, not when one is in my financial straits. But the man was paying a hefty sum for his Thursday evening sessions and spent most of his time discussing brown-bag options. It seemed a little strange to me, but who am I to say? I once knew a guy who used seventeen different toothbrushes every day of the week. Seventeen. I was never sure why, even though I knew him pretty well. Intimately even. Okay, truth is, I’d lived with him for eighteen months. He was as loopy as hell, but he had great dental hygiene, and if I’ve learned anything in my thirty-odd years, it’s that sometimes a girl can’t be too fussy.

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