If Carol had been a more self-conscious person she might have worn stale jeans for another day. But years of dealing with brothers and locker rooms and the general knowledge she was both hot and powerful made standing in a laundromat in her underwear at three in the morning tolerable, if not comfortable. She stood in front of her washer, arms crossed and feet planted, in the mismatched combo of “sexy red bra” / “last resort blue granny panties” and glared down anyone who so much as gave her a weird look. That hadn’t been many people. It was a Saturday night on campus. Anyone who wasn’t drunk was in as desperate a state of mind as her. One guy, some kind of STEM major judging from his smelly bundle of ironic science shirts, took one look at her and borrowed her plan.
His name was Bruce. He liked her fauxhawk. She liked his atom-patterned boxers. They stood next to their machines in the stoic and companionable silence of mutual respect. Then she walked in.
She was a dark-haired woman with a split lip and a black garbage bag she upturned into a washer without sparing either Carol or Bruce a passing glance. Carol was too busy surreptitiously admiring the curve of her ass to notice what had Bruce’s eyes the size of dinner plates, but she figured something was going on when he hopped off the folding counter he'd moved over to and high-tailed it outside in his undies. The woman looked up and pulled her bag up with her. Carol just caught sight of a bloody tank top sliding into the drum before the woman slammed the lid down and crumpled the trash bag up in her pocket.
“What you looking at?” the woman spat, and, hello, was that a real accent or was she just one of those people who mainlined Doctor Who until it was “petrol” and “sodding” all over the place?
“Nothing,” Carol said, raising her hands palms-out. “Uh. Do you need detergent?”
The woman looked at her seriously for the first time. Carol just quirked her eyebrows at the once-over she got.
“As you can see,” Carol added, “I’m not in a position to judge.”
The woman walked up and took Carol’s offered bottle of Tide. She watched Carol’s face as she opened the lid of her washer and began to pour. She stopped exactly when Carol was about to say something about over-sudsing. Then she slammed the lid down again. Her fingers hesitated over the buttons on the top panel.
“It’s hot water for blood, right?” she asked. “Like, boil it out?”
“No, no,” Carol said. “Cold. Don’t remember why, but it’s cold.”
The woman punched the appropriate buttons and started her wash. They stood in awkward silence until the woman cleared her throat and unzipped the hoodie she was wearing.
“Want my coat?” she asked. Carol frowned. She didn’t need it, but she kind of wanted to talk to the woman, so what the hell.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind,” she said. “I let things pile up for too long.”
The woman slipped her coat off, tossed it over, and Carol tugged it on. It didn’t do much for decency. The woman was several sizes smaller than her and much narrower in the shoulders. But it was warm and it was a nice thought so Carol zipped it up and grinned.
“What do you think?” she asked. “Red my color?”
“I could’ve told you that before,” the woman said as she boosted herself up onto her washer.
“Carol,” Carol offered as she unzipped it a little to let her bra peek out again. The woman smiled, winced, sucked her split lip into her mouth.
Carol’s washers rumbled to a stop and beeped all in a row. She wandered over and went to sorting her t-shirts and fatigues into separate dryers, watching Jess watch her out the corner of her eye, deeply grateful for all the squats and stair-running she’d been doing in Physical Training. She had the ass of a marble goddess right now. But she was reminded as she loaded her damp clothes up that Jess’s had been soaked in blood and that took a little precedence over flirting.
She really hoped Jess hadn’t murdered someone. Calling the cops would kill whatever weird thing was happening between them right now. Also, murder was bad.
“I don’t want to pry,” Carol started, turning around and cutting her eyes at Jess’s shuddering washer, “but, uh, that was a lot of blood.”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s not mine,” Jess said, waving her hands. Then she frowned and shrugged to indicate her split lip. “Well. Most of it’s not mine.”
Carol raised her eyebrows. “You get that that’s not helpful or reassuring.”
“Yeah, now that I’ve said it.”
They stood in silence for another little while as Carol got her dryers going. She half-expected Jess to be gone when she turned back around, clothes be damned, but she was still there looking like the right words were on the tip of her tongue but wouldn’t come out.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I said it was that time of the month and I ran into a door, would you?” Jess asked.
“Not after you said the blood wasn’t yours,” Carol pointed out. Jess sighed. Bruce’s washer stopped. Carol wondered if the cops weren’t already on their way. He’d been pretty spooked.
“Any chance you’d be willing to just mind your own business?”
“That was a lot of blood.”
Jess groaned and pulled her hands out of her jeans pockets. She flattened them out in front of her and Carol got her first real look at Jess's bruised and bloodied knuckles.
“I fight strangers on the internet for money,” Jess explained.
“What, like hobo fights?” Carol asked. Jess snorted.
“God, no, that’s horrifying,” Jess said, insistent. “No, I fight jumped-up frat boys on camera and get two hundred bucks a go for them to put it on YouTube. It’s all good fun.”
Carol cut her eyes at Jess’s washer again. “I don’t think your frat boys would agree considering how much they lose.”
“They gain a valuable lesson in not underestimating someone just because she’s a head shorter and seven stone lighter, though,” Jess said with a wicked grin. Her split lip reopened and she cursed. Carol handed her an unused dryer sheet.
“You thought I murdered someone, huh?” Jess asked as she blotted her lip. Carol shrugged.
“Stranger things have happened on a Saturday night,” she said.
“Yeah,” Jess agreed. “I heard this banged-up chick ran into a hot blonde with her kit off in a launderette and got her number.”
“That’s pretty wild,” Carol said, “considering the banged-up chick just confessed to being on the channel of some YouTuber who watched Fight Club one too many times and also doesn’t have anything to write with.”
“If you couldn’t handle the blood you’d’ve done a runner when the kid with the glasses did. And this isn’t the Dark Ages—I’ll give you mine and you text me.”
“I don’t have pants on, you think I have my phone?”
“Is it not in your bra?”
“No, but you don’t have to take my word for it.”
Carol honestly didn’t blame Bruce for taking off again when he poked his head back into the laundromat a few minutes later. No ironic t-shirt was worth prying two people, furiously making out, off your washer.