"What do you think?" Jenna Stevens asked, doing her best to sound confident. When faced with something scary, like a big dog or a really bad decision, it was important not to show fear.
"I love it," her mother said. "Truly, it's amazing." Beth squeezed her daughter's shoulders. "I'm so proud of you, honey."
Proud? Proud was good. Proud implied an accomplishment. The only problem was Jenna couldn’t claim one. She'd acted on impulse.
As a rule, she could respect a good impulse purchase. There were times when life sucked and a woman needed to buy a pair of shoes or a skirt or even a lipstick she didn't need, just to prove she could. To show the world she wasn't defeated.
Only Jenna hadn't bought any of those things, mostly because she wasn't much of a shopper. But she'd sure stepped out of her comfort zone recently. Had she done it with a too-expensive handbag? Of course not. Instead she'd impulsively signed a three year lease on retail space in a town where she hadn't lived in nearly ten years. As if she knew anything about retail. Oh, sure, she'd been shopping, but that wasn't exactly the same as running a business. Just like being a chef didn't mean she knew squat about running a kitchen store.
"Breathe," her mother told her. "You have to breathe."
Apparently she'd shattered the illusion of courage by hyperventilating.
"Maybe not," Jenna murmured. "Maybe if I stop breathing and go into intensive care, the management company will let me out of my lease. There has to be a clause about a near death experience, don't you think?"
Jenna turned from staring at the front of her new business and pressed her head into her mother's shoulder. Something of a trick considering Beth was a good six inches shorter and Jenna was wearing heels.
"I didn't read the lease," she admitted, her voice slightly muffled.
She braced herself for the chiding. She'd been raised to read everything before signing it. Even a greeting card. She deserved to be yelled at.
Her mother sighed and patted her back. "We won't tell your father."
Jenna straightened. They stood in the parking lot in front of the space she'd rented. Right now it was just an empty storefront, but in a few short weeks, it would be her new business.
"Fifty percent of all new businesses fail," Jenna whispered.
Her mother laughed. "That's my little ray of sunshine. Come on. I'll buy you a latte. We'll sit, we'll talk, we'll plan ways to have your soon-to-be ex-husband tortured. I'm sure your father knows a guy."
Despite the fear and the panic swirling in her stomach, the sense of impending doom and a life that bordered on pathetic, Jenna smiled. "Mom, Dad's a banker. Men who run banks don't know guys."
"Your father is very resourceful."
He was also a physically fit, active man who enjoyed plenty of outdoor activities. If Marshall Stevens wanted something physical to happen to Jenna's ex, he would do it himself.
"I’m just so angry at Aaron," Beth said, leading the way to her SUV. "That cheating, lying you-know-what."
The "you-know-what" was, of course, a stand-in for bastard. Or possibly sonofabitch. Either way, Beth didn't believe in swearing.
She was a traditional kind of woman. She put on make-up before leaving the house, always brought a casserole in a covered dish when there was a death in someone's family and never, ever had a cocktail before five. All things Jenna loved about her.
She knew people who thought traditions were stupid and a waste of time, but for Jenna, they were the warm, comforting glue that held her family together. She could count on her parents to be what they'd always been. Today, that was more important than ever.
They got into her mother's SUV, a late model gas-guzzler and drove toward the closest Starbucks.
"I'll never forgive him," Beth announced. "I suppose I could accept it if he decided that your relationship wasn't working. Not every marriage lasts. It's the cheating that makes him a weasel. I swear, if my daddy was still alive, he would go after Aaron with a shotgun and I wouldn't stop him."
Some days Jenna wouldn't have stopped him, either. But her anger at her ex wasn't about the other women, although the thought of them didn’t make her happy. What made her lie awake at night, questioning herself and every decision she'd ever made, was the other ways Aaron had hurt her.
The cheating simply gave her an easy excuse to say why the marriage had failed.
They pulled into the Starbucks parking lot. Her mother turned to her. "You get anything you want. Venti, syrup, whipped cream." Beth wrinkled her nose. "I won't even mention how resentful I am that you're as skinny as a string bean and I'm stuck with thighs that hate me. That's how much I love you."
Jenna laughed, then leaned across the console and hugged her mother. "I love you, too, Mom. Thank you."
"I haven't bought the coffee yet."
The thank you wasn't about the drink, but then her mother already knew that.
"I'm glad you're home," Beth told her as she climbed out of the SUV. "This is where you belong. Real people live in Texas, not in Los Angeles. All those Hollywood types." She sniffed. "Is there anyone normal in the city?"
"A few, but they never go out at night." Jenna linked arms with her. "I'm glad I'm home, too."
While that wasn't necessarily true today, she hoped the sentiment would be. Soon.