Her four kids were grown, she ran a flourishing interior design firm, and she was looking for a man to share her success with.Her date was 55, 6 feet 2, with hard-jawed good looks and a gym-sculpted frame.He looked a little weathered, and he dressed lazily — shorts and an ill-matching preppy shirt — but he might have once been an All-American quarterback on a trading card. He had thick dark hair and a warm, friendly smile that invited trust.His eyes were hazel-green, with the quality of canceling out the whole of the world that wasn’t her, their current focus. They had found each other on an over-50 dating site, and she thought his profile — Christian, divorced, physician — seemed safe.Soon Debra and John were quietly looking for a place together. It had to do with vigilance and quick reflexes and the will to fight.
Her mom said she was getting his certificates framed, but Terra knew, and she did something uncharacteristic. He had an explanation for why he had a nursing degree but called himself a doctor. When Jacquelyn showed up, John asked for a private word with her. He acted like a kid himself, vulnerable and sweet, and single-mindedly besotted with her.
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!
John towered over her by a full foot, and a coldness came off him. Terra and her boyfriend moved into the spare bedroom of the new Balboa Island rental for a few days. Did she realize that kids should be smacked for this?
This made it hard for Debra to maintain the illusion that John wasn’t really living there, though she tried. Terra screamed at her mother: “How could you let this guy talk to me like this?!