Chapter 1 of Never Try To Explain
Jellica stared hard at the pictures on her refrigerator door. Except for the two varying colors, the model, make, and year of the Subaru CRVs were identical. Unfortunately, even well used and with high mileage, she still couldn’t afford them. Sometimes being a poor single parent sucked and this was definitely one of those times.
“Don’t look it like that, Mom. Think of our pictures like your vision board. This is our version,” Eric said.
Her son walked into the kitchen in time to catch the sad expression on his mother’s face that Jellica hadn’t been able to hide fast enough. She nodded at her eldest by two minutes, her heart not really into being a cheerleader for him this morning, but doing it anyway came with the mother job. “There’s never any harm in creating a positive focus. Putting it where we can see it every day is a great idea, Eric.”
“It’s great because it was my idea,” Noah said loudly, barreling into the room with the force of a hurricane. “My ideas are the best.”
Unlike Eric’s controlled lawyer-like demeanor learned from his brief years with his father, his younger twin brother’s energy more closely resembled a one person demolition crew. God only knew where Noah had gotten it. His overabundance of energy was why, even without being able to properly afford it, Jellica had no choice but to let her whirlwind child play soccer… and football… and lacrosse with the rich kids at the private school halfway across town that hit her wallet hard.
Whatever the sport, Noah never got to the out of town competitions without them recruiting a benefactor, but her determined son got up every morning and did a newspaper route before school to pay for what he could of the costs. Eric, her budding entrepreneur, worked three part-time jobs and she suspected he contributed the money from at least one of them to Noah’s sports fund. She’d often heard Eric spouting numbers to his brother and referring to the long-term interest that would be paid back when Noah hit the “big-time”—whatever that was in their young minds.
Jellica hung her head and sighed. “You’re the best sons a woman could ask for and I’d do nearly anything to get each of you the car you wanted. But… you need new clothes again… and shoes… and…”
Noah opened his mouth and stuffed in the last bite of toast from the breakfast he’d inhaled, picked her up, and hugged her hard until all the breath nearly left her body. He laughed as he swallowed while she fought to escape his now superior strength to hers. Both her sons were going to be large, strong men. They’d outgrown her in middle school, but it was only in the last year that she’d realized they really were going to one day be adults with lives of their own.
Noah smiled into her eyes until they softened at his adoration of her. She knew he did that on purpose. What Noah didn’t know, and God—she would never tell him—was how much he looked like his father when he did it. Noah’s unabashed affection was one of the rare things capable of making her miss her betraying ex-husband.
“It’s okay, Mom. We’re just doing what you told us to do. We’re putting our desires out there so the universe clearly knows what we want. The how will take care of itself. Right?”
Noah wasn’t really asking, she knew. He was just trying to make her feel better. They often tossed her own sentiments back to her—sentiments she sometimes actually managed to believe—at least on good days.
Jellica snorted as she hugged her ever-optimistic son back. Noah was unstoppable. Thank God. And Eric was resourceful and smart. Given the fact that their father was too busy with his new family to care about his old one… well, their positivity was all she could hope for in a home environment where she was the only role model they had.
A horn honked and she was dropped abruptly. “Damn it, Noah…” Both boys chuckled at her rare swearing as she stumbled back against the refrigerator door. Noah grabbed his backpack and was out of the kitchen in a flash.
“That’s Joe. Gotta run, Mom. We don’t want to be late for school. Last time we were late you lectured the principal about the irrelevance of time and we got busted on by our friends for a month even though we didn’t get detention. We can’t go through that again and keep our man cards,” Eric declared, pulling her away from the refrigerator and kissing her cheek before he left.
Snickering over their negative motivation for being on time for their classes, Jellica watched them both go with a surprisingly heavy heart. Her boys were her one constant source of true and unconditional joy. She knew she should be counting her blessings for their excellent grades and attitudes, but some days… well, some days being grateful was just too hard.
She put her hand on the pictures of their dream cars and sniffled back tears because she knew she wasn’t going to find a way to pull off buying them. Her meager income didn’t allow for multiple cars, much less car insurance for two male teenagers. She couldn’t even see herself coming up with enough money to get one car they could share.
God knew her own car needed repairs that she kept putting off to pay for other things. Since the divorce, keeping any sort of savings had been incredibly hard. Her one bright financial spot was the paid-for house her lawyer ex-husband had reluctantly provided for the three of them. In exchange, she’d promised to never ask for more money. Their good grades would have to net the boys scholarships for college if they planned on going because child support was non-existent. Their father gave them money for birthdays and holidays, but that was all. The rest of their upbringing had been up to her. Her metamorphosis from trophy wife to struggling single mother had been difficult one, but she’d survived. They were sixteen now and nearly ready to leave home. She mentally patted herself on the back daily for managing all these years to put food on the table.
One thing was certain. Life had turned out differently than she’d thought it would back when she discovered she was carrying twins. She’d been happy then—or at least she’d had the illusion of a happy life. Then a decade later she’d been shockingly replaced. Her husband had walked away from her and the boys and never glanced back over his shoulder to see how they’d survived his abandonment.
Sometimes Jellica thought the shock of her ex’s defection fuelled everything she did in her life, including her sporadic dating sprees that always led nowhere.
And today was supposed to be the day she began fixing her lack of a genuine love life. Fat chance of that happening. Jellica suspected Dr. Della Livingston was already prepping to record The Perfect Date bio that was required for Mariah’s dating database.
Maybe she should just capitalize on the opportunity this was and seduce some stuffy, geeky, and obviously date-deprived rich businessman. Maybe her grateful rich guy would shower her with money and gifts and… yeah, that would be great, wouldn’t it? She could finally hire a plumber to fix the boy’s bathroom so the boys didn’t have to shower in hers. Being a damsel in distress wasn’t her thing, but hey… wouldn’t it be nice to have some help for once?
“Sure it would. Then we could all live unhappily ever after in the rich guy’s big expensive house where my kids probably wouldn’t be allowed to sit on the furniture or get dirt on the floors. What are you thinking, Angelica Quartz? That would be as bad as remarrying their jerk of a father,” Jellica mused aloud.
She closed her eyes and groaned at the awful idea, willing her mind to chase it far, far away.
When she opened her eyes again, Jellica looked at the refrigerator once more, huffed over the idea that she couldn’t find a way to get her sons a car, and immediately rejected the idea of taking advantage of some unsuspecting rich guy.
There were no real Prince Charmings in the world—she well knew that at her age. And even if there were still a few out there, she would never be able to keep someone like that happy. Her horrendous divorce and what she’d given up financially to have full and complete custody of her children had taught her that wealthy men lived life by their own rules.
No. She was better off with her financially poor and sexless life.
Her nervousness embarrassed her. Without thinking about it, Jellica bit her freshly glossed bottom lip and instantly regretted doing so. God only knew what kind of chemical crap was in the slick, shiny stuff what they’d layered onto her mouth at the salon.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life, but this is a new level for me.”
Della tilted her head to study the beautiful woman putting her dating fate into her hands. “Are you nervous about making the recorded bio?”
Jellica felt her shoulders lift and fall. “Sure I’m worried about that… and the whole computerized dating thing. Choosing a date this way just seems so…”
Della laughed. “Lame?” she suggested.
“I was going to say unnatural… but lame works,” Jellica admitted, drawing a wide, wicked grin from the very savvy looking Dr. Livingston.
“I thought arranged dating was lame too until a month ago. Now I’m engaged to the guy Mariah picked for me—well, technically picked. Her matches work out more often than they fail,” Della reported.
“Right,” Jellica said, not really believing any match could ever work out for someone like her. She ducked her head to ponder Della and Elliston’s relationship. She preferred something spontaneous and romantic… not something so… calculated. Della had said they’d traded favors or something and fallen in love along the way. Love lightning had never struck her and she didn’t expect it to ever do so, but if it did, she hoped for something a lot better than a business deal.
“Okay. Let’s start with the basics. Say your name and anything you want your perfect date to know about you.”
Jellica drew in a cleansing breath and let it out slowly. When she saw the recording light flashing, her throat tightened so she repeated the calming action. When it didn’t alleviate her choppy breathing, she silently cursed Georgia Bates under her breath. Unfortunately, that didn’t help either.
During Georgia’s stupid potluck dinner, signing up with Mariah’s online dating service seemed like it would be a fun way to start getting out in the dating scene more. Five pounds of makeup and what had to be a whole bottle of hairspray later, she was completely disgusted with herself for participating.
After her divorce, she had vowed to never, ever use such artifice again for a man. Her ex had expected her to put her makeup on first thing in the morning and keep it on all day. If she had a nickel for every time her former husband had asked if she intended to put on some makeup, she’d be a wealthy woman well able to buy cars for both her sons.
What in the world was she doing here? This was a monumental waste of time and she had zero time to waste in her life. New shoes for her sons weren’t going to drop from the sky. New clothes would be needed before long too to cover the long legs both her boys seemed to have inherited from their maternal grandfather. She needed to be looking for a way to pay for those necessities instead of trying to impress a bunch of rich guys who would all run screaming from her chaotic, crazy, and all-too-real life.
“Jellica?” Della prompted, snapping her fingers. “Where did you go?”
“Same place as always and yet nowhere important,” Jellica admitted with a dry laugh.
She sighed and pulled herself into a more upright and balanced position in the seat. Posture did a lot for a person’s confidence. Didn’t she teach that in all her yoga classes? She took one final deep breath—finally done with her own personal pity party.
She’d agree to do this. So she’d do it.
“Sorry. I’m ready now.”
“Okay. Start when you want,” Della ordered.
Jellica smiled for the flashing light. “Hi. My name is Angelica Quartz. Friends call me Jellica. I’ve always thought the shortened version suited my energy better.” She wiggled a bit in her seat, caught herself squirming, and forced her body to stillness once more. “Among the many things I do for a living, I teach yoga which is a lifelong passion for me.”
“I love yoga. I’ll have to sign up for some of your classes. What else do you do?” Della asked.
Jellica shook her head, laughed, and waved away the question. “The list is too long for this bio. Yoga is the one constant occupation for me. As for the rest… well, let’s just say I’m a free spirit when it comes to making a living.”
“Okay,” Della said with a smile. “What kind of perfect date does a free spirit need to find?”
Jellica giggled over Della’s teasing. “I don’t think I have a lot of preconceived notions. I’m certainly not looking for someone to mirror all my personal traits back to me. An opposite personality would be just fine as long as he had an open mind and adored me enough to be flexible.”
“Can you clarify what you mean by ‘flexible’?” Della asked.
Jellica rolled her eyes a bit at Della’s attempt to draw her out, but answered anyway. “If a guy wants to fold his socks and line them up in his dresser drawer, that’s his business. I toss all mine in a basket which I keep on my closet shelf. I prefer the natural chaos of all the socks mingling with each other. Most days I enjoy the challenge of finding a matching set. On the days I don’t, I wear two different socks. My perfect guy needs to be immune to my eccentricities.”
“You’ve always look nicely put together to me… and you obviously have a great body you enjoy showing off.”
“Thank you,” Jellica said. “My one clothing OCD is that I like matching lingerie.”
“Red lace or black lace?” Della laughed.
“I have all colors,” Jellica said, then her eyes widened over what she’d just confessed on video. She laughed uncomfortably. “Can you strike that last comment when you edit?”
“Don’t worry. I’m a great editor,” Della said, not committing to any action.
Knowing she’d been caught being vulnerable, Jellica looked down at herself and plucked at her blouse. “This is not who I am. I couldn’t talk the image consultant into letting me pick my own outfit. I look much better in a sports bra and capris. This outfit is not really my style, you know? There’s absolutely nothing like it in my closet. My tastes are more… bohemian.”
Della nodded. “I’m sorry the image consultant didn’t get it right with you. He’s usually better than that.”
Jellica shrugged off the apology. What else could she do? It was too late to change clothes. “These are wonderful clothes just more formal than I’m used to wearing. I mention it only because I feel the need to be honest with anyone seeing this video.”
“Totally understandable. Let’s move on. Can you describe yourself in two words?”
“Woo-woo,” Jellica answered instantly, “though maybe that’s technically one compound word.”
Dell snorted. “Well, that’s clear as mud. Describe woo-woo for me.”
Jellica grinned. “If I do, I promise you no one in your database is ever going to want to date me, Dr. Livingston.”
“Beautiful yoga instructors should be in high demand as dates,” Della answered with a grin.
Jellica shrugged one shoulder. “My sporadic and unfulfilling dating life has led me to believe just the opposite,” Jellica answered sincerely.
“Let’s go back to your description of woo-woo,” Della prompted again.
Sighing Jellica stared at the camera and the woman operating it. “It’s one of those concepts that you either get organically or you think is absolutely crazy. I’ve found it best to never try to explain myself or my beliefs.”
Della laughed. “You’re aren’t explaining anything yet. Spill it, Jellica,” she ordered.
Jellica conjured a smile for the camera, but could feel it wasn’t reaching her eyes. Della didn’t get it either. Jellica didn’t like labels or being defined by the critical judgments of people who didn’t know her. “My jewelry—what little I own—is all natural stones. I keep an amethyst cluster on my nightstand to cleanse whatever pieces I’ve worn that day.”
Della shrugged. “What’s wrong with that?”
“I also sage my house once a month to keep the negativity to a minimum. Teenagers go through a lot of angst and it has a tendency to fill our living space when they verbalize it.”
Jellica waited for a reaction. When Della only lifted an eyebrow, she leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms. Fine. She could be honest as the woman could handle.
“I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience—one we chose for ourselves before we incarnated. Meditation is my preferred method of communing with the universe. It would thrill me to find a man who practices tantric sex since Sting is already taken. Wait… is that TMI for this bio?”
“Not really,” Della replied casually, grinning down at the camera. “What’s the most important thing your perfect guy ought to know about you?”
Jellica straightened in her chair again and looked straight into the camera. “That’s an easy question to answer. Men should know that my sons mean everything to me. Being a single mother hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth every minute. My boys will be leaving for college in a couple of years. Until then, they will remain the sole focus of my existence. Every decision I make is about them. I’m definitely one of those women whose children will have to approve of any man I let into my life.”
“Do your sons know you feel that way?” Della teased.
Jellica laughed as she shook her head. “Goodness, no. They’d love nothing more than for me to find someone—mostly because their father remarried right after our divorce and started family number two. But I’ve already told my sons I wasn’t going to settle just to make them feel better about eventually leaving home. Love should never be about settling. It should be about finding someone who makes you so happy that you have to make them happy in return.”
“I agree,” Della said. “And we’re just about done. I have one more question. What’s your most secret dream—the one you’ve never told anyone about? Give us a glimpse into the real you that you’ve had to protect up to now.”
Jellica frowned and dropped her gaze to her hands. She shook her head. No, she was not going to bare her soul for the entertainment of a bunch of males who wanted Business Barbie.
“I can see this is a tough one for you, Jellica. Want another question?”
Her sigh echoed through the room. Dr. Livingston obviously wasn’t going to let up until she’d drawn emotional blood. Jellica lifted her chin at the challenge. “You want my big secret? Okay. Here it is. I want it all—I want the dream. Despite how different I am as a person, I want the big house and the white picket fence just like every woman ever born.”
Della laughed. “I hate to disagree with you, but I have to in this case. Not all women want that dream. I’m still not in any rush to marry even though I’ve definitely found the perfect man. I’m having to work my way into accepting the idea of marrying and I’m lucky Elliston is patient. Most men might think an unconventional woman like you might feel the same as me.”
Jellica reached up to run a hand through her hair and found the stiffly sprayed waves prevented the movement. Her mouth tightened in irritation and she longed for a shower to remove the gunk.
“I grew up taking care of my nieces and nephews, and I honestly never minded babysitting. In fact, I was one of those girls who had her wedding planned and her children all named by the time she was twelve. My problem was that I was not a girly-girly longing for an MRS degree. As I got older, I realized I was the only person who knew my athletic, lean body hid a deeply romantic soul. Ninety percent of why I married my children’s father was probably to make that long-held dream come true.”
“It’s not a crime to want romance and love and all the trappings. People pay good money for The Perfect Date’s help with finding the perfect person to give them those things.”
Jellica nodded. “Unfortunately, when I married my ex I didn’t understand one of the most important aspects of a lasting relationship. You need to be both friends and lovers and I neglected to marry a man who wanted me for me.”
“Being over 40—do you consider yourself wiser about love now?” Della asked softly.
Jellica shook her head. “Not really, but I’ve definitely learned that I’m better off alone than being with a man who doesn’t appreciate me. I’ve been on a dating hiatus for a good long while now. I think maybe part of me has given up on the idea that the perfect man exists. That’s a hard thing for a die-hard optimist to admit… but it’s my current truth.”
Della pushed the button. “Okay. That’s a really good place to stop.”
“Thank God,” Jellica said dramatically, feeling seven kinds of real relief as she released a tight breath. “After all the blackmailing she did to get me into Mariah’s database, I’m surprised Georgia Bates isn’t here to harass me.”
“Oh, Georgia’s here,” Della said with a chuckle. “Ann and Trudy are here too. I made them all wait in the lobby. After the trouble I had making Trudy’s video, I didn’t trust them not to fluster you too much to get through it.”
“Smart call, Dr. Livingston,” Jellica said honestly, feeling the corner of her painted mouth lift in a genuine smile finally. “They definitely would have rattled me. Harassing me is high entertainment for the three of them.”
“Why do you let them get by with so much teasing?” Della asked.
Jellica chuckled. “Because I know they love me and would do anything to help me. And all of them have helped me at one time or another. I’m a single mother of two teenagers. Their friendship keeps me sane and reminds me that I’m more than just someone’s mom. In return, I keep them all in shape. Except for Georgia. She half-asses all exercise—or she used to before Brent crawled into her bed. Her best excuse these days is that their sex life makes up for the yoga classes she misses. I’ve got to say the woman has incredible legs for someone her age. She and Ann are my role models. Both of them are gorgeous.”
“So how does Trudy fit into your friendship paradigm?” Della asked with a grin, kind of glad Chef Baker hadn’t heard she’d been exempted from being a physical role model.
Jellica smiled wide, her eyes crinkling. “Trudy is the mother I always wished I had. She feeds me and pats my back when I’m sad… or fusses at me when she thinks I’m wrong. One day I may tell her how much she means to me. Up to now, I haven’t wanted to make Trudy feel any older than she already does. There are not that many years between us—just a decade, I think. But having three older friends, I know that most women over fifty are a tad sensitive about their aging. I expect I will be too when I hit the big five-o.”
“You’ve barely crossed the big four-o mark. I will say that your friends are fearless compared to many women who come through The Perfect Date’s doors,” Della said. “And you were pretty brave today.”
Jellica laughed. “It’s easy to be brave when you have so few expectations. I’ve learned to be a ‘throw everything on the wall and see what sticks’ kind of gal.”
Della narrowed her gaze. “Really? You seem pretty focused and goal-driven to me. So how much younger was the woman your husband left you to marry?”
Startled by Della’s observation, Jellica laughed nervously and winced at being caught in a pity moment. Had she revealed the truth in the video without knowing it? She usually hid her heartache better. “Wow. Who told you the woman was younger than me?”
Snorting, Della slid the camera’s memory card into her cardigan’s front pocket. She tucked her arm through Jellica’s to keep them on friendly terms. In her work and studies, she’d come across lots of men like Jellica’s husband. Their actions rarely were motivated by anything to do with their wives.
She hugged Jellica’s arm as they walked. “I watched what Mariah went through with her ex-husband. It was the most painful case study of my doctoral work. From her heartache, I concluded that only a cheating SOB with entitlement issues has the power to make a woman as hot as you feel unattractive and unwanted.”
“I hate to think of myself as being so pathetic… or at least I hate that it’s obvious,” Jellica admitted.
“It’s not obvious in general, but it is relationship math for the trained observer. Like Mariah, you deserve to see yourself as the hot, passionate, admirable woman you really are instead of judging yourself by the warped ideas of the husband who left you. You should know right now that I’m planning to find you plenty of men who’re going to make you feel worthwhile again as a woman.”
“Do you really think I’m hot?” Jellica asked, her eyes rolling upwards at the neediness inherent in the question… and that she’d skipped right over being referred to as passionate and admirable. She hadn’t been a girly-girl in her youth, but apparently, she’d turned into one after forty.
Della laughed and nodded. “Yes. I think you’re very hot. And so will every male that sees your picture in the database. Send me one of you in your favorite yoga pose. I’ll add that to your profile before I post it. That way you won’t have to be so self-conscious about the image you’re presenting.”
“That sounds great,” Jellica said in relief. “At least the contrast between the profile picture and the video will keep my normal, makeup-less face from being such a shock.”
Della giggled. “Jellica Quartz, you need to clear your calendar and get prepared.”
“For what?” Jellica asked, knowing her calendar was already more than full.
Della thought and then grinned. “Get ready for the magic to find you,” she answered, “dating magic. I’m going to find you the perfect man.”
Jellica saw her three waiting friends had overheard Della’s promise. Their wide grins were wicked and knowing. After all, hadn’t each of them found love and romance here?
For a brief moment, Jellica was tempted to believe Della really could make some magic happen for her. Then she remembered her refrigerator door. She’d much rather find the magic to get her sons those cars. Her love life and empty bed would just have to wait.
She owed Mariah—and damn it, she owed freaking Georgia—to go on at least one date, but that was all.
Then it was back to the real world and all the parenting work that came with it.