My drive home from work was ridiculous. Friday traffic going west from East Hollywood was a running joke.
“Can you make it by six thirty?” Francine’s voice came though my speakerphone as I stopped at a green to avoid blocking the box at Doheny.
“Not to Silver Lake, I can’t.”
“I want you to meet him. You have to meet him. That’s it, I’m laying down the law and he’s going to enforce it.”
I made it across before the light changed. It was the little victories that made life worth living. “If I date him, are you going to make cop jokes?”
“Hot cop jokes. Hot cop. Hot. With ink.”
Francine had a listening problem. When I’d told her I wanted a nice guy, she confused that with good-looking, tattooed, and law-abiding.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“I’ll try to hold him for you. But I can’t speak for all the other girls there.”
“If he’s so desperate to get in someone’s pants—”
“Vivian Foster. Don’t even. Just get there and put a little mascara on, okay? And try not to start finding reasons to hate him before you even get there. Just go with an open mind. Have fun. You don’t have to marry the guy.”
“All right. I won’t marry him.”
I got stuck behind an SUV at a light. Couldn’t see anything down the block, which I found the most frustrating thing in the world.
She blew me a loud kiss. “Love you, blondie.”
“Love you too, brunettey.”
We hung up. I wasn’t the demonstrative type. I didn’t say I love you all the time, and I wasn’t girlish or giggly. I hated shopping in pairs and preferred staying home with a good romance novel to girls’ night out. But I figured sometimes you have to meet someone halfway. So if Francine needed me to escort her to the bathroom when we were out or say I loved her at the end of a phone call, I’d do it for her.
When Carl and I broke up six months earlier, she had been there for me. She took me out and let me cry on her new blouse. She got me drunk and made sure I didn’t go home with anyone but her. But as the months wore on and I still wasn’t interested in dating, she got more and more worried. Which meant she had to fix it.
I didn’t want to be late for the setup with the hot cop, but when I pulled into my driveway, I was too tired to even think about wearing mascara.
My dumpy little Nissan with sun-damaged paint and a missing hubcap looked ridiculous on my block. I lived in Beverly Hills. It was almost embarrassing. Almost. Because having regular trash pickup and flat sidewalks wasn’t a joke. Neither was feeling safe when I got home late. And the library was gorgeous. The school district was one of the best, which would matter when I had kids, and the restaurants were great when I could afford them. Which was never.
The front door was ajar. If I lived where I worked, I would have panicked. But this was Beverly Hills, and an open door meant I didn’t have to worry about intruders as much as I had to worry about my stepfather.
“Dad?” I called from the porch. “Dad?” I said again, dropping my bag by the door.
Another reason to keep the doors and windows sealed in winter was the heat. We blasted it to keep Dad’s joints comfortable. Warm and dry were the doctor’s orders.
The house was built like the letter O, with a courtyard in the center, the public part of the house in the front and on the east side, the kitchen in the back, and four bedrooms and a den on the west side. The furniture was top-of-the-line circa 1967, going out of style and back in again in the time I lived there.
I could cross to the other side of the house through the center. So I slid open one of the heavy, seven-foot-high glass doors that separated the living room from the courtyard.
“Close that!” a voice came from the kitchen. “I don’t have stock in LADWP.”
I slid it closed. “LADWP isn’t publicly traded.”
Dad stood in the dining room, leaning on his walker. It had a tennis ball stuck onto the two back legs. We’d tried everything to get a controlled slide out of those back legs, and nothing worked like a couple of Wilsons. He was still young, but he had done something to piss off the gods, because arthritis was crippling him before his time. “You keep saying that, but I was around when LILco went public.”
“In New York.” I kissed his cheek. “We don’t privatize utilities here in paradise.”
“Such a know-it-all. A real wisenheimer.” He turned his hand into a flat plane and shook it at me. He’d brought his comedy schtick right from his family synagogue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
Our kitchen was massive, and the appliances were from the same era as the furniture. Only Dad’s handy repairs kept everything in beautiful working order.
I took the lid off the simmering pot. “Oh. Pot roast.”
“You staying for dinner?”
He looked at me with his brown eyes. Mine were an icy non-color. Almost blue. Sometimes grey. His skin was olive, and mine was peachy. But he’d been a father to me since I was born.
As her divorce attorney, he’d fallen in love with my pregnant mother. He got her the house in the settlement and moved into it. I was six when my mom died. He didn’t blink, adopting me without my biological father’s interference. I didn’t appreciate that properly until I was twelve, when he’d brought a woman home to meet me. I didn’t remember her name, but she had red hair and was younger than he was. She ignored me so noticeably that Dad excused himself, picked up my plate, and he and I ate dinner in the kitchen while she finished alone.
She never came back. When I’d asked him about her later, he said he only needed one woman in the house. It was then that I felt chosen, and that feeling had never left me.
I put the lid back on the pot. I’d felt chosen, but I didn’t want him to stay single the rest of his life.
“How did you peel the potatoes?” I glanced at his hands for signs that he’d aggravated his arthritis.
“They come peeled at the store now. It’s like they read my mind. So I asked the deli to cut them. Then the lady back there, nice Spanish lady, she cut the carrots too. Even peeled the skins.”
He shrugged as if to say, “I still got it.”
“You didn’t close the door again. We should get those lever handles so you don’t have to grip a knob to lock it.”
He waved again. “Such a mensch. Eat. Then go out.”
“How did you know I was going out?” I got two plates and cups from the cabinet. They were my mother and bio dad’s good wedding china.
“You’re single and beautiful. It’s Friday. You don’t need to be a genius.”
I couldn’t stay home after that. He’d sulk if I did.
I set the table, and he made his way to his chair, tennis balls sliding across the linoleum. Some days he didn’t need the walker and it was fine, and some days he broke my heart.
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