The Newport Ladies Book Club
by Heather B. Moore

Chapter 1
            “Three! Four! Five! Six!” my class chanted in unison, but it sounded more like we were all just grunting.
            I smiled and delivered a sharp jab into the plastic dummy in front of me, even though sweat poured off me like the overflowing banks of the Santa Ana River. The kickboxing instructor took my smile as a sign to increase her intensity. I stifled a groan and forced myself to keep moving. Three months of this class, and I finally felt like I could keep up. Who said that Athena Di Jasper couldn’t rise to the challenge?
            The workout slowed, and we started the cool-down. My favorite part. The sense of accomplishment zinged through me. I felt strong, relaxed, and in control. The perfect end to a productive day. I’d even skillfully avoided my mother’s advice about men earlier when she’d called me on the way to the gym. Most single men my age were either divorced with a couple of whiney latchkey kids or had some complicated issues that prevented them from maintaining a decent relationship or were gay. Around Newport Beach, the margin of normalcy for men in my age bracket had shrunk in the last few years. It only took me until my thirtieth birthday to realize that. Two years ago.
            Wiping my face with the club towel, I made my way to the locker room, waving good-bye to a few of the women. I hesitated at my locker, debating whether it was more disgusting to take a shower in the commune stall or to drive home in my sweat-drenched clothes. Out of habit, I reached for my cell phone in my gym bag while trying to decide.
Three texts.
            Everyone knew the best way to get my response was to text. Well, everyone but my mother. She insisted on calling—every day. My dad remained silent for the most part, in his own world of fading memories.
            Text 1: Put it on your calendar
            Put what on my calendar?
            I scrolled to the third text and read in the order they were sent—all from Karl: In town, can I see you tonight?
            Text 2: 8:30? I’ll pick you up.
            Now Put it on your calendar made better sense. Karl liked to tease me about my inability to make one move without scheduling it on my calendar. Speaking of calendars, I switched to my phone calendar and saw two things—first, it was 8:05 p.m., and second, I had nothing scheduled that made a good excuse not to see my boyfriend. Yes, he was my boyfriend but not in the traditional sense of “we date three to six months then move to the next level.”
            He was just a guy I had dinner with when he came into town.
            And my mother hated him.
            “He’s the only man you’ve dated for the past year. Are you or are you not going to get married?” A question Mother often asked when she used up her other interfering questions.
            Karl is a nice guy. Okay. He’s quite good-looking, charming in that rugged, younger-version-of-Clint-Eastwood way, and could probably date a lot more interesting and romantic women—but for some reason, he liked me. Probably because I’m safe. I don’t make demands. I leave him at the doorstep with nothing more than a kiss good night—a very chaste kiss, by the way. Surprisingly, he hasn’t complained, or else I’d have reduced our twelve months of dating to a week. I remain mysterious. I’m low-maintenance. I don’t complain when he’s gone for weeks at a time on assignment. I don’t mind if he forgets to call (which hasn’t happened yet). And . . . I pay him.
            He’s one of my photographers for the online magazine I launched ten years ago during my last semester at UCLA. A senior project that took off—or backfired, depending on how one looks at it—Newport Travel has brought in a steady income since then, even if it hasn’t exploded into the vision I had for it when I started. At least my mother approves of the income.
            What she doesn’t approve of is a man who travels around the country snapping photos then comes back home for a few days and dates her daughter.
            “You need someone who will settle down, be a family man, and hold down a job that lets him afford a place of his own. Maybe you should date a Greek.”
            Karl, who lived in a beachside apartment with three other men, didn’t rank high on my mother’s list of potential husband material. At least he didn’t live with his parents like my last boyfriend, who was Greek (and dating him only lasted about eight days). But I couldn’t always choose Greek, even though I was technically one myself, so I tried to keep my options open as much as possible.
            Although that was getting harder and harder at the age of thirty-two.
            So with no other option and half dreading another night at home alone, I texted back. 8:45?

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