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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?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.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?!She thought they’d find something bad to say about anyone she dated. Debra wasn’t about to tell her kids that John would be moving in with her. At 23, Terra watched and rewatched every episode of “The Walking Dead.” She spoke of the series less as entertainment than as a primer on how to survive apocalyptic calamity.
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!
Sometimes they pretended to be sincere churchgoing Christians.