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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?!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!
Her friends sometimes joked about her being a “bad picker.” Where other people saw red flags, she saw a parade. She knew what they’d say — that she was moving too fast, acting with her heart, repeating old mistakes. She made careful note of why some characters lived and others perished.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.She went to bed thinking, “Jerk.” She thought, “Cross off another one.” The next day she was back at her office, a little sad, trying to lose herself in work.Over the 30 years that she had built Ambrosia Interior Design, it had been her refuge amid many romantic disappointments.