Home > California Girls(14)

California Girls(14)
Author: Susan Mallery

She pulled into the driveway next to her mother’s silver Civic then braced herself for what was to come. In theory, her mother should be someone she could turn to in a time of need for comfort and advice. What was the old saying? Her mother should be a soft place to fall. But whoever had come up with that one had never had Mary Jo for a mother.

Ali got out. She’d texted her mother earlier, saying she wanted to stop by without saying why. Now, as she walked to the front door, she braced herself for whatever was to come.

She knocked once and opened the door. “Hey, Mom, it’s me.”

“I’m in the kitchen.”

Ali made her way through the living room to the large eat-in kitchen where her mother sat at the table working on what she would guess was a script. In the past couple of years, Mary Jo had joined a local theater group. She mostly wrote plays and directed, which was kind of weird considering she’d been in retail her whole life, but if it made her happy, then sure.

Her mother looked up as she walked into the kitchen. She slid off her glasses and set them on the table. Mary Jo had always been a beauty. It wasn’t anything Ali could relate to—she looked more like her father, which was okay, but also kind of a drag, truth be told. Growing up with a beautiful mother and stunning older sister hadn’t been easy. Even Zennie was striking, while Ali was left being nothing other than almost average.

“What?” her mother demanded. “Something happened. I knew it the second I read your text.”

“Maybe I just wanted to see you.”

Her mother only stared at her. “Just tell me. Did you get fired?”

Ali told herself not to be surprised. Of course her mother would think the worst and assume it was all Ali’s fault. Although considering her news, maybe her mother wasn’t totally wrong.

She took a seat at the old round wooden table and set her bag on the floor. “I didn’t get fired. Things are great at work. It’s Glen. We, ah... He broke off the engagement.”

“What? Are you kidding? You’re getting married in six-plus weeks. The invitations have gone out. What happened? Why did he change his mind?”

“I have no idea. He won’t talk to me. He sent his brother to tell me, and we haven’t had a conversation since I got the news. All communication has been via text and it’s been more about logistics than anything else.”

Ali was pleased she got through her little speech without even tearing up. To be honest, she was much more concerned about her mother’s reaction than her own pain.

“You must have done something,” her mother muttered. “What did you say to him that made him so mad?”

Ali felt something odd inside and realized it was righteous indignation. She was so thrilled to feel something other than hurt or shame that she decided to indulge.

“Why do you always do that?” she asked, her voice firm. “Why do you have to assume I did anything wrong? Maybe Glen’s a dick. He didn’t even bother telling me himself. He sent someone else to do his dirty work. For what it’s worth, he’s refusing to help cancel the wedding. I’m on my own with that. So for once, could you possibly consider that maybe I didn’t screw up?”

Her mother sighed. “I can see you’re upset.”

“Yeah, just a little. The guy I thought I was going to marry and love forever dumped me. Upset might be a good word.”

Her mother turned over the script and rested her hands on the table. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m sure you’re not to blame. Anyone who would act like that isn’t right in the head. Have you considered apologizing and asking if he’ll take you back?”


“What? It’s a reasonable question.”

“It assumes, once again, I did something wrong. Have you considered the possibility that Glen changed his mind and then was too much of a coward to deal with the consequences? This totally came out of the blue. Besides, even if it hadn’t, after the way he’s acted, I don’t want him back. I could never trust him.”

Ali had spoken from the heart and even she was surprised by those last words. Was it true? Did she really not want Glen back? And if so, when had she made that decision?

“It’s just he was such a nice man and an engineer. He would always have a good job.”


“Fine. You’re well rid of him.” Mary Jo pressed her lips together. “I’d so been hoping for grandchildren. I’m not getting any younger.”

“You’re barely in your fifties.”

“All my friends have grandchildren.”

It was a familiar refrain and one Ali didn’t want to hear today. “I’m sorry if the consequences of my broken engagement are getting in the way of your wants and needs.”

“There’s no need to say it like that.”

“Mom, I’m suffering here and you’re making it about you.”

“I’m not. I’m sharing how I feel. Is that a crime, now? I’m sorry about the engagement. I really am. I had high hopes for you and Glen. If you’re looking for a distraction, you can help me go through the house. There’s plenty here that needs doing.”

“While that sounds amazing, I still have the wedding to unwind. It’s a lot of work and I can’t count on Glen.” Daniel was helping, but this didn’t seem to be the time to mention that. Her mother would assume he was the reason for the breakup, which was so ridiculous as to be laughable. Ali had seen a couple of Daniel’s girlfriends and they all had Victoria’s Secret model potential. As if.

“Well, you can help me after you’re done canceling the wedding,” her mother said. “What are you going to do about your apartment? Isn’t your lease up?”

Ali felt the room dip and sway. Not an earthquake, she thought grimly. Nothing that simple and predictable. Nope, her reaction was pure shock because until her mother had asked, she hadn’t once even thought about her apartment.

“No,” she breathed. “No, no, no.”

“Ali, you simply have to be more responsible,” her mother began.

“Not now,” she said firmly, even as her mind struggled to figure out a plan and fast.

Foolishly, she’d assumed she would be moving in with Glen after they were married. He had a nice little condo in Pasadena, and while her commute would be longer, hey, she was getting married, so of course they would live together. To that end, she’d given notice on her apartment and had to be out a couple of weeks before what would have been her wedding date.

She and Glen had worked it all out—what furniture they would keep, what they would get rid of. Most of hers was to go, which had been fine because his was nicer and she didn’t feel a deep sense of commitment to her secondhand dresser or coffee table.

“I’m going to have to talk to the building manager,” she said.

“Hopefully they haven’t rented the place out from under you,” her mother said. “If they have, you’re going to have to find somewhere else. Rents are going up.”

“Mom, this isn’t helping.”

“I’m simply pointing out the reality of your situation.”

“I’m clear on the reality of my situation.”

“You don’t seem to be.” Her mother studied her for a second, then sighed. “I suppose you could move back here, with me. You could stay in your old room and help me pack up the house.”

Or not, Ali thought, hoping the wave of horror washing through her didn’t show on her face. Move back here? Um, no way, nohow. She might not be moving forward in her life, but that was no excuse for moving backward. Not to mention the hell of having to deal with her mother 24/7.

“That’s very generous of you,” she said evenly. “Thanks, Mom. Let me figure a few things out before I commit.” Which was a very polite version of what she wanted to be saying. “I don’t think they’ve rented out my place yet so I’ll just keep that.”

“If you say so.”

Ali glanced at the rooster clock on the wall. “I should, ah, be going. I want to talk to my building manager before she leaves.”

Her mother stood and hugged her. “I am sorry about Glen. You’ll find someone else eventually, Ali. Goodness knows you work with men all day long. Aren’t any of them dateable?”

“It’s complicated, Mom.” Mostly because dating someone at work would be dumb and for reasons she couldn’t understand, she was more best friend than babe. No one ever asked her out or hit on her or even made lewd remarks. Not that she would encourage the latter, but was just once too much to ask?

On the way to the front door, Ali paused by the big grandfather clock in the living room. It was old and ornate and definitely not in style right now, but she had always loved it. Her bedroom had been the one closest to the living room, so she heard the chimes all night. When she’d been younger, she’d thought the clock chimed only for her.

“Mom, are you taking the clock with you when you move?”

“That monstrosity? No. It’s old and ugly. Besides, the salt air would destroy it. Why?”

“I’d like it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t even have a place to live. What would you do with a grandfather clock?”

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