Home > California Girls(15)

California Girls(15)
Author: Susan Mallery

Ali ignored the sense of always being the afterthought kid. “Zennie isn’t going to want anything to do with it and Finola doesn’t care about it. Why can’t I have it?”

“Do you really need to take this on right now? We’ll talk later. Now go save your apartment.”

Her mother hugged her and shooed her out the door. Ali told herself not to take any of it personally—it was just her mother’s way. Only it was difficult not to feel slighted and dismissed—feelings she’d grown up with.

Finola was clearly her mother’s favorite. Mary Jo had married young and then had tragically lost her husband in a car accident. Finola had been the result of their undying love. When Mary Jo had married Bill, everyone had known she was settling. It had taken her a good twenty-plus years to figure it out for herself.

Zennie was their firstborn and Bill could not have been more smitten with his daughter. Ali wasn’t sure why they’d bothered having another kid. Maybe Bill had secretly hoped for a boy or maybe she’d been an accident. Either way, she was no one’s special child. Everyone knew parents weren’t supposed to show preference for one child over another, but in her house, the lines had been clearly drawn.

“Apartment first, mope later,” she told herself as she got in her car and headed home.

She got to her apartment in North Hollywood a good thirty minutes before the offices closed. Elema, the building manager, was in her office when Ali knocked on the open door.

The fiftysomething woman smiled at her. “How are the wedding plans going? You’re already getting packages delivered here. It’s very exciting. Oh, Sally said someone dropped off an envelope for you earlier.” Elema pulled it out of her desk and handed it over.

Ali glanced at the plain white envelope. She recognized Glen’s handwriting and hoped a big fat check was inside. Or at least one for enough to cover half the expenses. She tucked it in her back pocket and took a bracing breath.

“Yes, well, that’s what I want to talk to you about,” she said, settling in the chair by the desk. “Glen and I have gone our separate ways.”

Elema’s smile faded. “Ali, no. What happened? He seemed like such a nice man. Oh, this makes me so sad. Are you all right?”

“I’m getting there. The thing is, I won’t be moving and I was hoping to stay in my apartment.”

Elema’s mouth twisted. “I’m sorry, but we’ve already rented your place. You know how it is—the building is newer and on a quiet street. We usually have a waiting list. They’re a nice young couple with excellent credit.”

Ali had done a great job of holding it all together through her visit with her mother and on the drive home. Now she felt her fragile connection to anything close to calm fade away.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“We’ve signed a lease with them. We can’t break it.” Her expression was sympathetic. “I’m going to have a studio available in two months, if you’d be interested in that. It’s smaller than what you have now, of course, and a hundred and sixty dollars more a month.” One shoulder rose and lowered. “Rents are climbing. The new lease on your place is three hundred dollars more than what you’re paying.”

How was that possible? And if rents were more here, they would be higher everywhere else. Damn Glen—he’d screwed with her life in more ways than she would have thought possible. Why had she ever trusted him or believed in him? She’d been a fool and now there was no going back.

“I’m really sorry,” Elema added. “If you want I can try to make some calls to other properties I know of to see what they have.”

“That’s sweet. Let me think about this for a while. If I need some help, I’ll get back to you.”

“I’ll be here. And I’m really sorry about Glen. Hopefully you can work it out and still get married.”

Rather than answer, Ali offered a fake smile. She made her way to her apartment before giving in to the urge to scream. After throwing herself on her sofa, she pressed her face against a throw pillow and let loose.

“Dammit all to hell, why is this happening to me?”

She kicked her feet for good measure, then rolled onto her back and sucked in a breath. Tears flowed down her temples and into her hair.

This was so not fair, she thought, hugging the pillow. First the wedding and now the apartment. Stupid, awful Glen. May he rot in hell.

She lay there for several minutes, alternately crying and yelling into the pillow, then sat up and wiped her face. She pulled the envelope from her back pocket. At least the pressure of paying off the wedding would be eased a little, she thought, opening the envelope and pulling out the check.

Five hundred dollars. He’d written her a check for five hundred dollars. Canceling the wedding would cost her at least five thousand. Maybe more. Plus there was her dress—that was money she would never see again. Now she had to worry about finding a place and first and last months’ rent and moving her stuff and paying off the stupid wedding.

Hatred rose up inside of her, boiling into anger and disgust. “Wherever you are, rat bastard, I hope you get food poisoning and a rash and go bald. I hate you. Hate you!”

She threw the pillow against the wall. It was less satisfying than when she’d thrown her phone, but she couldn’t afford another replacement. Then she curled up on the sofa and told herself she was going to feel sorry for herself for the whole night. In the morning she would be strong, but for now there was just pity and maybe some brownies she’d stashed in the freezer. Because right now, her life totally and completely sucked.

Chapter Seven

Zennie did her best not to listen to the conversation happening in the office next to the locker room. Dr. Chen wasn’t yelling or raising his voice in any way. Still, the words were clearly audible and his combination of frustration, anger and disappointment had Zennie cringing, and she hadn’t done anything wrong.

Molly had screwed up. As the circulating nurse, her job was to keep things flowing smoothly through the surgery. She was to have equipment in place, have supplies at the ready and enough staff to manage the difficult and lengthy procedures that often occurred whenever a surgeon had to crack open a chest.

Today essential supplies had been missing and Zennie had had to scramble to help Dr. Chen make do. Carol, another of the nurses, had been forced to break the sterile field to get what they needed. Not an ideal situation under any circumstance but when they were performing open-heart surgery, it was unforgivable. Molly probably wouldn’t lose her job over the mistake, but she would be off Dr. Chen’s team. He was one of the best surgeons in the country and as such, he often had the most critical patients and the most difficult surgeries. Mistakes could literally mean the difference between life and death.

“It won’t happen again,” Molly said, her voice muffled by the wall and what Zennie would guess were her tears. “Please, Dr. Chen. Don’t throw me off the team.”

Zennie tugged on an oversize T-shirt and hurriedly shoved her dirty scrubs into her bag. She pulled on her athletic shoes and quickly tied them before hurrying out of the locker room.

Once in the hallway, she paused to take a breath. She wasn’t meeting her girlfriends until five, so she had some time to kill. She headed to the cafeteria, not wanting to hear any more of the not-so-private conversation.

Monday night workouts were a standing date with her friends. They were meant to counteract whatever wildness happened over the weekend. In addition to sweating out carbs and alcohol, the women used the time to catch up, offering advice for the crisis du jour.

The gym was only a block away. The state-of-the-art facility offered everything from spin classes to rock climbing. The dues were insanely expensive, but hospital employees got a sizable discount and for Zennie, the price was worth it. She loved trying different classes and staying in shape. Given Dr. Chen’s preference for predawn start times for his surgeries, she usually went after her shift was over rather than before.

The Monday night workouts were more social than challenging, but she figured taking it easy once a week wasn’t going to kill her.

Once she reached the cafeteria, she settled at a back table. It was too early for most people to be eating dinner, and the floor nurses were right in the middle of shift change, so she practically had the place to herself. All the easier to think, she told herself, which was handy, as she had a lot on her mind.

Ignoring Molly’s plight, about which she could do nothing, there was still her own life to deal with. Her friends would want an update on Clark, and they weren’t going to like what she told them. Sadly, they would all be more upset than she was. For her part, she would be thinking about Bernie’s request. She’d thought of little else in the past twenty-four hours.

Zennie had decided not to do any research—not right away. She wanted to let the idea sit for a few days, to see how it felt. Her instinct had been to call Bernie as soon as she got home and say of course she would be her surrogate, but she’d stopped herself. This was a big decision and she needed to be both prepared and informed.

She remembered how scared she’d been when her best friend had first been diagnosed with cancer. How she’d wanted to help and, despite her medical training, there’d been exactly nothing she could do. Driving Bernie to chemo, stocking the refrigerator and cleaning her house had been insignificant things. She couldn’t cure her friend or stop the vomiting or give her hair or promise her a long, happy life. That sense of being useless had depressed her, although she’d done her best not to show it. Now there was a tangible act she could perform. Saying no didn’t feel like an option.

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