Authors: Jessica Park
Tags: #General, #Fiction
By Jessica Park
Copyright © 2010 by Jessica Park
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. An
dy resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This efiction is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This efiction may not be re-sold or given to others. If you would like to share, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this efiction and it was not purchased for your exclusive use, then you should purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of all authors, and helping the e-reading community to grow!
For Mom. This one is all for you
Tons of thanks to Michelle Fournier, Sido Blackett, Alexa Lewis, Jessica Whitney, Kristen Orakwue, Michele Scott, Amanda Olivier, Melissa Roberts, Meg Driscoll, and my husband
Bill, who collectively slaved over rough drafts, provided free editing services, and gave me endless support as I wrote. This loyal group listened to me obsess about the plot, characters, and the writing process more than could have been entertaining. I owe you all.
The very helpful and charming Tricia Costello from Freshwata Boutique Events Company in Los Angeles was kind enough to send gorgeous photographs and give me amazing details about party planning. (Ava and Dani thank you, too!)
A big thank-you to Jessica Hendra for telling me where to shop (and not to shop!) in L.A., and for her overall encouragement and kind words.
I can’t imagine a more phenomenal literary agent than Deborah Schneider. Brilliant, funny, tough, savvy…I am grateful beyond words to have her on my side.
I will be forever grateful to Jody Hotchkiss for believing in this story from the beginning. He and his team at Hotchkiss and Associates were an unfailing source of encouragement and brilliant suggestions. After only one look at an early outline, Jody told me that if I jumped, a net would appear. You were my net, Jody, and you caught me more times than I can count.
“Dani? Phone for you!” Leila called, hoping her voice would carry over the music blasting from her daughter’s room. “Danielle!”
“Coming!” Dani bounded out of her bedroom, and hung her head over the stair railing. “Toss it up, Mom.”
“Fat chance. Come down here and get it. It’s Samantha. And make it quick. Alan needs your help with the pasta sauce.”
Dani ran down the stairs and took the wireless phone. “Hey, you look nice, Mom.” Tonight was her mom’s five-year anniversary with her boyfriend Alan, and Dani and Alan were putting together a dinner to celebrate. Leila had just cut her dark hair into a short style
and the soft curls around her face suited her perfectly. The deep red wrap
dress that hugged her body was cheery and festive—perfect for the occasion. “You’re a hot Mama!” Dani hopped back up the stairs.
“And you’re a nut. Five minutes, Dani, okay?”
Samantha had been Dani’s best friend since kindergarten
and the two could be on the phone for hours. Dani held the phone in the crook of her neck. “Hi, Sam. What’s up?” Dani shut the door to her room and peered into her closet, looking for something nice to wear for dinner.
“Hey, Dani. I’m in desperate need of your help. Actually, your wardrobe’s help. I have Spanish class with Steven Meyer tomorrow
and I have nothing to wear. I only have two weeks to get his attention before school gets out and he disappears for the summer. Can I borrow something?”
Sam’s parents were on a really tight budget and didn’t have extra money to buy their daughter every latest fashion. Not that Dani’s own closet was overflowing with pricey designer labels, but her mother made enough money as an interior designer to treat her to the occasional shopping spree. There was good food on the table, presents under the tree at Christmas, and the occasional summer vacation to the coast of Maine. Apparently all the bills were paid because they still had electricity and a decent cable lineup, which was, at times, more than Sam could say. Dani had gone to Sam’s after school one day to find that the house was dark and freezing; the electric bill was past due
and Sam had been horribly ashamed.
“You can borrow whatever you like. I can bring some stuff over tomorrow morning before school if you want. Sound good?” Dani started yanking shirts from her closet and throwing them on the bed. “I’m picking out your boy-catching outfit as we speak. I gotta run. We’re having Mom and Alan’s anniversary dinner tonight. See ya in the morning.”
She leaned into the mirror on her wall and carefully applied a touch of lip-gloss. It was a light shade of pink so perhaps her mother wouldn’t notice.
Mom notices everything!
She ran a brush through her long dark brown hair and wished her straight hair was thicker and had more body to it. More shape, more bounce, more oomph! She’d finally convinced her mother that some highlights weren’t going to be the first step
becoming a child bride, and Leila had begrudgingly agreed to a barely noticeable tint.
Dani put on a simple pair of silver hoop earrings. There was another battle Dani had fought for a number of years: getting her ears pierced. With the way her mom had argued you would have thought Dani had been asking to get a life-size eagle tattooed above her butt. All of her friends had gone off to the mall to have their ears pierced and got to pick out adorable butterflies or hearts as their starter jewelry. Dani had to go to the doctor’s office with her mom.
A clean, sterile environment!
So Dani had returned home with plain silver studs and then spent six weeks smelling like the rubbing alcohol that her mother doused her with every chance she got.
Leila was constantly moaning that her baby was growing up.
By the time Dani came downstairs, the house was full of incredible aromas from Alan’s cooking. As a professional chef, he insisted on culinary perfection—at work and at home. Dani inhaled deeply. “So you went with the basil, huh?”
Alan stood at the stove over a pot of simmering tomato sauce. “You were taking so long to get your butt down here that I had to make the decision on my own. If the sauce stinks, I’m blaming you!” Alan said, teasing her. It was only recently that Dani had started taking so long to get dressed. “It’s only me and your mom here tonight
and we don’t care if you wear sweats and a stained
“Yes, but tonight is special, which entitles me to wear a little makeup.” Dani wrapped her arms around Alan’s waist and gave him a quick kiss, leaving a lip-gloss mark on his cheek. “I can’t believe you and mom have been together so long. Weird.”
Alan stopped stirring and pointed at her with wooden spoon, dripping sauce onto the floor. “Weird that we’ve managed to maintain a relationship for so long or weird that she puts up with me?”
“Neither, silly. Just
I don’t know. Weird. I just feel like you’ve always been around, that’s all.”
As far as substitute dads went, Alan was pretty cool. Not only was he a professional chef who always kept her and Leila well fed, but he was also an all-around good guy – relaxed, funny, and relatively normal for a grown-up. And he didn’t pretend to be her father. Dani had never met her real father and knew nothing about him. Leila had been a junior in college when she became pregnant
and the thought of becoming Dani’s father had scared him into vanishing from the face of the earth. Dani had never pressed Leila for details since her mom got all weirded out every time Dani brought him up. She looked a lot like her mother, but she wondered what she might have inherited from her father. Her big feet? Her gift of perfect lip-synching? Her love of all deep-fried food?
But all in all, Dani couldn’t complain about much. So what if her biological father wasn’t around? Half the kids in her class had single parents. Her mother took perfectly good care of her
and Alan was great. He took Dani and Leila on camping trips, let Dani cook with him at his restaurant sometimes, and snuggled with them on the couch during their family movie nights. He was as much of a dad to her as any kid could ask for. He even looked like what Dani thought a
ad should— boring corduroy pants, plaid flannel shirt, little wire-rimmed glasses, and mussed up hair. Fashion was not Alan’s strength, but even lame clothes couldn’t hide the fact that he was a good-looking guy. And most importantly, he made her mom happy.
“Sorry I took so long. What
can I do to help?” Dani asked
Alan. It was a treat having him home tonight because, as the chef of his own restaurant, he worked most nights. “Want me to
more basil?” Dani enjoyed tossing around the cooking terms Alan had taught her. “Need any
Alan rolled his eyes. “Okay, Frenchie, that’s enough out of you. Why don’t you go set the table, and after dinner you can help me brûlée the crème brûlées. Deal?”
“Yes, sir!” Dani mock-saluted Alan, pivoted on her toes, and marched formally into the dining room. “Your wish is my command, sir!”
Dani set the round
oak table with cheery striped placemats and arranged the dinnerware and utensils perfectly. There was a large glass vase in the center of the table that held a cheerful display
of wildflowers that Alan had bought
. Dani fussed with a few of the stems so
the Queen’s Anne lace didn’t obscure the bellflowers.
Leila came into the room. “It looks lovely in here! You’ve done a gorgeous job with the table, Dani.” Leila smiled at her daughter, appreciative that her teenager hadn’t yet reached the point where she felt family dinners were about as appealing as a stick in the eye. “Did you finish all of your homework?”
Dani nodded. “Yup. And I’m going to Sam’s before school tomorrow so I can lend her a shirt.”
“Dreamy guy to impress?” Leila asked.
“And then you two will walk to school together?”
“No, Mother, we are going to teleport there as always.”
“I mean, young lady, that I don’t want you riding with that Leo kid who lives next door to her. He’s what? Seventeen?”
“Correct, and he’s a big old thug who would probably drive us into a brick wall. I know, I know. We’re walking.” Dani was getting more and more fed up with her mother’s rules, but she knew it was only a few more years before she would have her own license.
Alan’s voice rang into the dining room. “Are you ready
ladies? Dinner is served.” He entered the room carrying an oversized bowl that was steaming with fresh pasta and lobster tails.
“Honey, that looks heavenly. And you look nice, too,” Leila added quickly with a laugh.
“Aw, shucks, ma’am. Just tryin’ to impress my lady and her sweet pea of a daughter.”
Dani groaned. “Knock it off, you two, or I’ll rear my ugly teenage head and have a hormonal fit about what dorks you guys are.”
“Anything to avoid the attack of the hormones! Seriously, thank you—both of you—for this dinner tonight.” Leila sat down and then raised an eyebrow at Dani. “And don’t think that I don’t see that lip gloss.”
“It’s chap stick,” Dani said. “Let’s eat!”
Dani carried the last plate into the kitchen and
found her mother standing in
front of the sink. The water was running
and the sink was full of dirty dishes. Leila leaned against the counter and stared into space. Dani stopped at the entryway and watched her mother.