High black Gucci heels, designer jeans, Chanel bag.At 59, married and divorced four times, she had begun to worry that she was too old for another chance at love.He said he had a Ph D, which earned him the title, plus advanced training in anesthesiology. She announced that he was the devil, that anything he had to say he could say in public. She found a therapist, who assessed the family dynamics and told Debra she needed to establish firmer boundaries with her children. They couldn’t sabotage her happiness — she had a right to it, just like anybody else. He liked to pose shirtless and take selfies of his washboard abs.At the big Thanksgiving party the next day, it was impossible to ignore the sudden fissures in the family — impossible to ignore Terra’s absence. Debra’s mother, Arlane, thought he dressed tackily, especially for Thanksgiving. To John, this was more evidence that Debra’s kids were spoiled and out of control. If they wanted to come over, they had to be invited. If John was the man she had chosen, it was her business. Their house on the boardwalk had floor-to-ceiling windows, and from the rooftop deck they could watch the sailboats and the great yachts slide over Newport Harbor. She smiled when he’d stop in front of a mirror and say, “Damn!Work was the realm in which her success was unqualified. She liked to hire single women and mothers because she could remember how it felt to be alone, with one child and another on the way, after her first marriage broke up.When people walked into one of her exquisitely arranged rooms, they were invited to imagine their futures in them. By the second or third date, he was telling her he loved her, that he wanted to marry her.
In her big Irvine warehouse, among the vases and mirrors and other decorative bric-a-brac, stood shelves of color-coordinated hardback books — aqua, navy, gray, brown — because books made nice furniture in perfect homes. The titles didn’t matter, as long as they omitted the words “sex” and “death.” Her perfect rooms were like the face you presented on dates, inviting people to fantasize about the piece that may complete their lives. Some people snickered, but she thought, “Busy doctor.” “So you are the real thing,” she texted him after one date.
Water lapped against a ribbon of sand yards from their front door, and they could hear the tall, wind-rustled palms and the muted creaking of the boat docks. I’m good-looking.” Wardrobe-wise, she thought he was kind of a mess, with his baggy pants and University of Arizona sweatshirts. “You promised he wouldn’t hang out with the kids,” Terra told her mom.
He said his clothes had been stolen while he was in Iraq. “I want to please you.” She took him to Brooks Brothers. He kept begging her to marry him, and she kept resisting, until she couldn’t. She kept it a secret as the weeks passed and Christmas approached. She desperately wanted to spend the holiday with her little nieces and nephews, but she didn’t even want to look at John. They came to an understanding that Terra and John would keep their distance during the party. Terra knew what people were thinking: “There she goes again, being overemotional.” She was the youngest in the family, her parents split up when she was young, and she’d been looked after by nannies during the years her mom built her business.
She felt protective of her mom and wondered why a guy who sounded as good as John would still be single. Why had no one seen John’s houses in Newport Beach and Palm Springs?
Her skepticism only deepened when she and Jimmy drove out to Southern California and met him. As he helped Debra move into her new house, he huffed and strained and wrestled her queen mattress down the stairs single-handedly, a show of ludicrous machismo. She thought maybe they were picking up on her own unease. Why did he seem to spend all day playing “Call of Duty” on the 70-inch plasma TV her mom had bought?