Home > California Girls(9)

California Girls(9)
Author: Susan Mallery


“I can live with that.”

She walked him to the door. When he was gone, she closed her eyes and tried to come up with a plan. She needed a new phone. That was number one. After she’d gotten that, she would go to the movies. There had to be some kids’ movie that would distract her. Or a nice horror flick that would terrify the sad out of her. Or maybe both. Later, she would sob her heart out and tomorrow she would get her act together. For today though, she was going to wallow. She’d survived the first night. Now there was only the rest of her life to get through.

* * *

Zennie spent Saturday doing the usual errand stuff that kept her life running smoothly, but even as she checked things off her list, she couldn’t escape the feeling of a dark cloud hanging over her. She felt awful for her sister—no one deserved to be dumped like that, ever. Glen was a total jackass and Zennie hoped he came to a slow and painful end. Not that bad things happening to Glen would make Ali feel better. Only time would do that, but Zennie felt there had to be something to be done or said. Not that she had a clue. She wasn’t exactly a touchy-feely kind of person and of the sisters, Ali and Finola were the ones who were the closest. They shared a bond that had never extended to Zennie. Maybe it was because there was a large age gap between the oldest and youngest—seven years. Finola had helped raise Ali while Zennie had been much closer to their father.

Zennie almost texted Finola a couple of times Saturday morning, then told herself Ali was right. Finola and Nigel needed their week away. Not to be overly insensitive, but Ali would still be brokenhearted in a week when Finola returned.

After her three o’clock hot yoga class, Zennie went back to her apartment and got in the shower. She had a date with Clark that night—her own fault. She should have canceled. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a nice guy—he absolutely was—but he wasn’t anyone she saw herself with in the long term. Not that she ever did. She’d never been the girl who’d played with dolls and had done pretend weddings. She’d rarely played with dolls at all. She hadn’t ever imagined what it would be like to grow up, fall in love and get married. She just wasn’t wired that way. The whole two-by-two thing was great for other people but less interesting for herself.

She stood in front of her tiny closet and thought longingly of an evening spent home alone, binge-watching the new season of The Crown, but it would be rude to cancel this late, so she had to suck it up.

She pulled on her go-to black capris and a black tank top, then chose one of her three loose, flowy tops that worked in most social situations. She slid on flat sandals before returning to the bathroom where she suffered through the indignity of applying mascara and a little lip gloss. Honestly, men didn’t put on makeup before they went out—why did she have to? It was barbaric. Like preparing herself to be sold at some concubine marketplace.

The overly dramatic image made her smile. Zennie pulled her small bag out of her tote and headed for the door. The restaurant Clark had suggested was close enough for her to walk. As she wasn’t going to be driving, maybe an extra glass of wine would make the date more bearable.

Zennie arrived at the trendy Italian restaurant right on time. Clark was already there, speaking to the hostess. Zennie took a second to study him, to see if she could figure out why he wasn’t working for her.

He was good-looking enough. She’d never been all that into appearances, but he was certainly in the “Yes, this is nice” category. He was about six feet tall, with curly dark hair and dark eyes. He wore glasses and always had a faintly earnest expression on his face. He was intelligent, dedicated to his work and a good listener. She should have been excited about their date instead of impatient for it to be over. Which meant what? If there was nothing wrong with Clark, then she had to be the problem, but then she’d always been the problem.

He turned and saw her. His eyes lit up as he smiled broadly. “Zennie, right on time. How are you?”

He took her hand in his and leaned in to kiss her. Despite telling herself not to, she turned her head at the last second and his lips grazed her cheek.

“I’m good,” she said. “Thanks for the dinner invitation. I’m looking forward to it.”

He straightened and she saw some of the light had faded from his eyes. As if her not kissing him on the mouth had hurt his feelings. She wanted to roll her eyes and scream. What was wrong with everyone? Why did everything have to be about love and sex and pair bonding? Now she had to make him feel better or the evening would be a disaster. Better to make things right and get it over with. Then she could go home and watch The Crown.

“Sorry,” she said, linking her arm with his and leaning into him. “It’s been a crazy day. Ali got dumped. She’s devastated and I don’t know how to help.”

Clark’s whole body changed. He relaxed as he reached over and hugged her.

“She was engaged, right?”

Before Zennie could answer, the hostess appeared to take them to their table.

Once they were seated in a quiet corner, Clark leaned toward her. “What happened?”

“Nothing good. Apparently Glen didn’t even dump her face-to-face. He had his brother do it. They’re seven weeks from getting married and he does this? What’s wrong with him? Ali never had much confidence to begin with and now this happens. I’m not sure how she’s going to recover.”

She felt guilty using her sister’s tragedy to get through her evening and told herself she would be extra nice all week to realign her karma.

“She and Finola are so close. I wish she was here, but Ali didn’t want to tell her right before Finola was supposed to leave on vacation.”

“Finola is the one who’s on TV?”

She nodded. “She and her husband don’t get away very often, so Ali didn’t want to mess with that. I just wish I knew what to say. Maybe I should take up boxing so I can beat him up.”

Clark smiled. “You’d humiliate him on multiple levels. I respect that.”

Their server arrived and took their drink orders. When he left, Clark asked, “Is it hard having a famous person in the family?”

“I don’t ever think of Finola as famous. She’s just on TV. But I suppose she gets recognized, at least locally. Sometimes, when we’re out shopping or something, someone comes up and wants to talk to her, but not that often. I guess it could be because we’re all together. Finola has said people approach her all the time.”

“Would you like that?” he asked.

“God, no. It would make me insane.”

“Me, too. I prefer small groups of people I know well, rather than large crowds of strangers.”

“Same here, although family can be challenging. My mother has decided to downsize. She’s still living in the house where we all grew up so it’s been about thirty years since the last move. When my parents divorced nearly a decade ago, Dad took almost nothing. Partially, I’d guess, by design but mostly because he was going to be living on a boat.” She smiled. “No room for power tools there.”

“Barely room for a screwdriver,” he joked.

“I know. So Mom plans to relocate to a much smaller place by the beach and she expects us to go through everything in the house and figure out what we want, what she should give away and what she should keep. It’s going to be a nightmare.”

Their server arrived with their drinks.

“Family’s nice,” Clark said. “Even when they’re being a pain.”

She realized she’d spent the past twenty minutes doing all the talking.

“You never talk about yours,” she said, once again feeling guilty. Apparently it was the theme for the evening.

“I don’t have any. None that’s close.” He shrugged. “I lost my parents when I was a kid. I was raised by distant relatives who did their best, but had never wanted children. They did the right thing, which I appreciate, but I knew I was in the way.”

“That’s terrible.” No one should grow up feeling unwanted.

“It’s okay. I got through it. In a way, what happened shaped who I am today. I wanted to get out of the house and we lived close to the Memphis zoo. I went there almost every day. It’s where I got interested in primates. I started volunteering and knew I wanted to spend my life studying them.”

He took a sip of his vodka and tonic. “Having direction helped. I never really fit in at school so the zoo became my refuge. After a couple of years, I knew that I wanted to save orangutans. When I went to college, I already had a leg up on everyone else, thanks to my work with the zoo. I went back every summer and volunteered. When I graduated, I already had some experience, which helped me get a job. And here we are.”

Zennie had known that Clark worked at the LA Zoo, but she hadn’t known his history. Probably because she’d never asked. She’d never even tried to get to know him, she realized. Which begged the question—why had she gone out with him in the first place?

“Zennie, this is our fourth date,” he said suddenly.

Her stomach immediately tightened. What did that mean? What was magical about the fourth date? She so rarely got that far in a relationship that she didn’t have a lot of experience past dates one and two.

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