Home > California Girls(4)

California Girls(4)
Author: Susan Mallery

“Ready to see your dress?” Ali asked. “Finola had her fitting with me last week.”

“I’m excited,” Zennie lied, then chided herself for not being more with the program. The wedding was a big deal—she should be happy and a willing participant.

It was just the whole getting married thing, she thought as Ali led the way into the dressing room. No, she amended. It was more than that. It was the two-by-two expectation. She’d grown up with the assumption that when she was an adult, she would pair up, just like the animals on Noah’s Ark. Falling in love followed by marriage followed by family. Only it hadn’t happened and to be perfectly honest, she wasn’t sure she wanted it to.

“Ta-da,” Ali sang as she pushed open the dressing room door.

A long navy dress hung from an ornate hook on the wall. The dress had cap sleeves and a sweetheart neckline, and was fitted to the waist before gently falling to the floor. Finola’s dress was the same color but a different style. Ali had been determined to find styles they both liked, which was a lovely quality in a bride-to-be. One of Zennie’s friends had gone full-on bridezilla, dressing her crew in hideous frilly, lime green concoctions.

Ali had requested they wear navy and had otherwise left the decision up to them.

“It’s beautiful,” Zennie murmured, thinking it was perfectly fine and actually nice for a bridesmaid dress.

“Did you bring your shoes?” Ali asked.

Zennie patted her tote bag. “Right here.”

She was sure Finola would have picked a designer something with a four-inch heel. Zennie had gone with a simple ballet flat. No way she was wearing heels, even for her sister.

She toed out of her slip-on athletic shoes, then pulled off her yoga pants and T-shirt. She hadn’t bothered with a bra, so didn’t have to worry about straps showing. After unzipping the dress, she stepped into it and pulled it up. Ali moved behind her and took care of the zipper, then Zennie slipped on her shoes. They both stared at her reflection.

“Perfect,” Ali breathed. “Come on. Let’s look at you in the big mirror. The dress fits great. I doubt there’ll be many alterations.”

The sales associate met them in the main room. Zennie found herself stepping up onto a platform in front of a huge mirror that was more than a little intimidating. As she stared at herself she thought maybe she should have put on a little mascara or fluffed her hair or something.

Instead she looked as she always did. Fresh-faced, with short, spiky hair and not a lick of makeup. She pushed the guilt away, telling herself she put in the effort when she was on a date and wasn’t that enough?

“Are you happy with the look?” the saleswoman asked Ali, as if Zennie’s opinion didn’t matter. “Is this what you imagined?”

“Sadly, yes.” Ali laughed. “See, I told you both my sisters were fabulous. No one is even going to notice me.”

“Nonsense. You’ll be the bride.” The woman climbed onto the platform and started pulling pins from the pincushion strapped around her wrist. “I’ll do a little tucking to give you an idea of the look, then we’ll get our seamstress out here to do the final pinning.”

The two women discussed everything from lowering the neckline—Zennie said no to that—to the length of the dress.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear some kind of heel?” the salesperson asked.


Ali sighed. “Zennie won’t budge on that. Good thing her boyfriend isn’t that much taller than her or they would look weird together.”

Zennie looked at her sister in the mirror. “Boyfriend?”

“Duh. Clark.”

Zennie stared blankly.

“Clark. You’ve been seeing him awhile now. He works with the zoo. He’s a primate specialist or whatever it’s called.”

“Primatologist, and he’s not my boyfriend. We’ve only gone out three times.” She barely knew him and had no idea if she liked him or not. Boyfriend? As if. She hadn’t even told her mother about Clark, which explained the evening text offering to set her up on yet another blind date.

“You said you were bringing him to the wedding.”

“No. I said I might bring him to the wedding.”

“Zennie! I planned on you and a plus-one. You have to bring a date.”

Why? That was the question, Zennie thought as Ali was distracted by whether or not to shorten her sleeves. Why did she have to bring a date? Was she less socially acceptable without a date? Was her conversation less sparkly, her love less welcome? She had no idea why she’d even mentioned Clark, let alone discussed him as her plus-one at the wedding. She wouldn’t want him there, regardless of the state of their nonrelationship. For one thing, people would ask too many questions. For another, her mother would go totally insane at the possibility of Zennie finally settling down with someone and giving her grandbabies. No one could survive that much pressure.

The pinning and tucking finished, Zennie stared at the dress. She would never admit it to her sister, but to her everything looked exactly the same. Of course she had the pins poking her to prove it wasn’t.

“Can you finish up here without me?” Ali asked, glancing at her watch. “I have to stop by the florist before I need to race back to work for a meeting.”

“I’m fine. I will stand here until they release me.” Once again she thought about how Nigel looked at Finola and how Glen didn’t look at Ali. “Shouldn’t your hubby-to-be handle some of this?”

“I would never trust Glen with the flowers. He’s a red roses kind of guy and that would be all wrong.” Ali stepped up on the dais and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for doing this. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ali raced to the door, then looked back. “Bring a date!”

“Bite me.”

Ali was still laughing when she ducked out of the store.

Zennie looked at her reflection and tried not to think about the wedding. It was four, maybe five hours out of her life. Yes, they would be torturous hours, but they were for a good cause. In the name of sisterhood and all that.

As for a date, well, that might be a problem. Because Clark was a nonstarter for sure.

* * *

Finola gripped the steering wheel so hard, her fingers ached, but she didn’t dare relax. Not until she was home. She drove slowly, careful to stay under the speed limit as she turned into her exclusive Encino neighborhood. As she approached the gate in front of their small community, she felt her control beginning to slip.

Almost there, she chanted silently. Almost there, almost there, almost there.

She made two rights, then a left before pulling into the driveway and pushing the button to open the garage door. As she eased forward, her hands slipped and the car veered a little to the right. She jammed on the brakes and started to back up, only to realize that she didn’t have to. Who cared if she wasn’t fully in her own section of the garage? It wasn’t as if Nigel was going to be pulling in next to her anytime soon. Of that she was sure.

She turned off the engine and collected her tote bag and purse. Once she closed the garage door, she walked into the house.

She was greeted by silence. She and Nigel had never wanted a housekeeper. There was a cleaning service that came twice a week and a meal delivery service, but both had been put on hold because of the upcoming Hawaii trip. As of two hours ago, the plan had been for her to meet Nigel at home after the show so she could finish packing. They would leave for the airport first thing in the morning. Only none of that was going to happen now. Not the packing, not the trip, not them being together and making a baby.

She dropped her handbag and tote to the floor, then kicked out of her shoes. She needed a plan, she told herself. She had to figure out what to do first, then second, then third. Only with each step she took, the blessed shock faded, leaving behind pain and disbelief and humiliation. The tears came first, then the sobs. She stumbled before sinking to her knees where she covered her face with her hands as she screamed out the agony.

Finola cried until her chest hurt and her throat was raw. She cried until there was nothing left but emptiness and the knowledge she would never be whole again. She stretched out on the cold, hard tile and wished she could be anywhere but here. Anywhere that wasn’t—

“No,” she said aloud as she sat up and wiped her face. “Not anywhere.” Not on television, she thought. Being here, alone and confused and sad and angry was better than staring at that stupid camera, waiting for everyone watching to figure out what was going on.

Nigel had done that to her, she thought as she scrambled to her feet. The bastard had come to her dressing room to tell her about his affair.

No, it was so much worse. He’d told her about the affair, aware his mistress was going to confront her seconds later. That was why he’d chosen today, right before the show. That was why he’d needed her to know. He’d softened her up, knowing Treasure was going to try to take her down. He’d cheated on her and then he’d thrown her to Treasure.

He could have told her who it was. He could have warned her, given her a second to catch her breath, but he left her to be blindsided. He hadn’t just cheated, he hadn’t had her back. He’d exposed her. There’d been no thought of her job or her career or what would happen on live television. What if she’d fallen apart? What if Treasure had said something to the audience?

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