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!
If your eagerness or loneliness or desperation showed too soon, you were done. “Best thing that will ever happen to you,” he replied.
He began spending the night regularly at her Irvine penthouse. She was convinced that her kids would understand how wonderful he was once they got to know him.
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.
She knew her mom liked to take care of people, and that she saw the best in men, at times against all evidence.
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.
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.
Her 24-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, who lived there with her, made it clear she thought he looked like a loser. She said she didn’t like the way his eyes roamed around the place, among their velvet chairs and jewelry and fine art. She thought that if any of her kids would give him a chance, it was Terra, her youngest.
Or the way he seemed so curious about the contents of her safe, where she kept her collection of Birkin and Cartier bags. Jacquelyn’s reaction didn’t shock Debra, since her taste in men often exasperated her children. The family’s quietest, most docile member liked to daydream about the end of the world.
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?!