Dating a man

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.

heir first date was at Houston’s, a restaurant in Irvine, where he opened the door for her and put her napkin on her lap.

Candles flickered along the polished-mahogany bar; jazz drifted from speakers; conversation purred. Her cornsilk-blond hair fell in waves over her shoulders.

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?

Sometimes they pretended to be sincere churchgoing Christians.

Terra had seen her scared, screamed at, hit, taken for money.

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.

He told her all about being an anesthesiologist in Iraq, where he’d just spent a year with Doctors Without Borders. That he owned houses in Newport Beach and Palm Springs. “This feels incredible,” he said, stretching out on her bed.

That he happened to worship at her church, Mariners. And he told her that she stopped his heart, she was so beautiful. Her last serious boyfriend had wounded her, in parting, when he said she wasn’t. She thought this was moving a little fast, but she decided to allow it. She brought John back to her penthouse, just up the block. She thought, “It’s just a mattress.” She became uncomfortable. He just didn’t want to leave, and she had to insist.

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.