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He told her all about being an anesthesiologist in Iraq, where he’d just spent a year with Doctors Without Borders. That he owned houses in Newport Beach and Palm Springs. “This feels incredible,” he said, stretching out on her bed.
They found a ,500-a-month house on the boardwalk on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. “The world ends,” she would say, “and those who are fit to survive will survive.” She was as nonconfrontational as her sister Jacquelyn was assertive.
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.
Sometimes they pretended to be sincere churchgoing Christians.
Terra had seen her scared, screamed at, hit, taken for money.
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!
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.
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?
The first word people used to describe her was “sweet.” She was living in Las Vegas with her boyfriend, Jimmy, and studying to be a dog groomer.