The divorce club, p.1
THE DIVORCE CLUB
©Copyright 2011 Jayde Scott
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This is a work of fiction and any resemblance between the characters and persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Other titles by Jayde Scott:
A Job From Hell
To F., Silver and Tabby
This book wouldn't exist without my partner's encouragement. Thank you so much for your undying faith in me and my abilities, even when a writer's royalties can barely cover the monthly electricity bill. I couldn't have come up with yet another book without you.
My gratitude goes out to my critique partner, Christine, and her keen eye for detail. Thanks for pouring your soul into my work and for being so enthusiastic about everything I write.
A huge thank you to my editors and beta readers. You know who you are.
To my fabulous readers: thank you so much for your support.
I'm thirty-four, the mother of a thirteen-year-old and divorced. But don't feel sorry for me because it was my own choice. You see, when the sonofabitch slash husband slash Greg decided to drop the mistress, I politely declined—and sold his priceless golf collection on the Internet in the process. I had a hard time—getting rid of him, that is—and I wouldn't wish the same begging and tears of guilt upon anyone else. That's why I'm standing in front of 21 Terrace Street on a rainy November day, waiting for the estate agent to finally make his grand entrance. Today in a fortnight I plan to open my personal revenge act on the male population and hopefully make a few bucks in the process because my daughter needs orthodontic braces and her beloved father decided to go undercover literally minutes after being told about the costs involved. Maybe one day I'll find him on the back of a milk cartoon.
A Ford pulls up and I crane my neck to get a better view. A guy, mid-thirty, tall but gangly, steps out. We make eye contact and he smiles.
"Sarah Beaver? I'm Ben Foster."
I cringe at hearing my previous, married name. Must have quoted it in a moment of fake domestic nostalgia induced by my unconscious.
"Actually, it's Sarah Davis." I hold out my hand and he grabs it in a sweaty grip. "I just got divorced."
"I'm sorry." Ben points around the corner. I follow a step behind.
"There was no way you could work it out?"
I sigh. "At first I thought about it—until I found lipstick on his boxer shorts. Then it was war and I forwarded all his mail to Alaska."
"You play dirty." Ben laughs. "Have you ever made a purchase this big before?"
"Only a major league football team." I regard him from the corner of my eye, waiting to see whether he gets the joke.
Something crosses his hollow features; his brown eyes sparkle for a moment, but it's not with amusement. "Shall we get started?"
"Sure." When I step aside, letting him take the lead, I swear he checks out my cleavage. He must believe the myth that all divorcees are rich and desperate for a shag because they haven't done it in years, what with the hubby cheating with the assistant and all.
He unlocks the door and puts a hesitant palm on my shoulder. "Come on in. There's lots of natural light, for a city."
I walk past quickly, brushing off his hand, then peer around. The hall's tiny with a trail of plaster peeling from the walls. Two massive arc windows tower above me. I'm definitely sold on lightening. This alone will save me a small fortune on electric bills. The musty smell reminds me of cheese though. I can only hope it's not mildew and someone just forgot to put on clean socks this morning.
"It really brings out the highlights in your blonde hair," Ben continues.
I smile, sweetly. What next? Will he tell me rays of sunshine are bouncing off my hazel eyes? He needs to get his mind on what I came here for—real estate, so I can finally start my revenge act. I walk past, staring up at the ceiling, which seems to be in good shape. A little sweat, hard work and a coat of paint, and this place will sparkle like a jewel.
Ben points at the bathroom. "Now, that's extra spacious. You'll never find a restroom this big in such a small house with lots of shelf space for perfume or makeup. Do you see how large the mirror is? The lighting above is fantastic for putting on blush or powder. Why don't you try it out? You know, to get a feel for it."
I'll give him something to feel when I kick his butt into next week. Do I look like a powder chic? I'm a serious businesswoman. "But I'm so smitten with the floral wallpaper and the deep scratches on the floor. I'm also captivated by the giant hook on the bathroom door."
He doesn't seem to hear a word as he keeps going like a robot. "Yes! This house is perfect for you. You definitely need to get one of those soft, padded toilet seats."
I turn to face him, taking in the dark circles around his eyes and that glint that signals his brain's counting the money as we speak. "Ben, let me assure you I couldn't care less about the bathroom design. If you don't want to flush this deal down the toilet, I suggest you quit talking fluff. I don't care if my bum gets a soft landing when I use the restroom. I'm more interested in your inspections dealing with cockroaches, electrical wiring, plumbing, and heating." I pause for effect. "Give me the facts. When was it built? Is the roof in good shape? How much does it cost to heat?"
He clears his throat and adjusts his tie, regarding me. "1983. The roof's seen better days, but if anything happens the insurance company will cover the costs. Heating shouldn't be that bad given how much natural light you get. There's a second room that you could use for storage." He opens another door and I scan the scratched but still shiny, wooden floor. Storage, my butt. The space's so tiny, I could barely fit a vacuum cleaner in here.
We move to the largest room and Ben resumes his infomercial, but I've switched off as I peer out the bay window to the overgrown backyard. I've always wanted one of those instead of Greg's meticulous lawn and trimmed hedges. They were just as boring as he was in our fifteen years of marriage.
"I could get the landlord to clean that up for you." Ben clears his throat. He seems almost apologetic as he points at the rusty windowpanes, and I feel sorry for him. "I know it's not up to scratch, but it's a nice area and the price is—" He hesitates. "You said you wanted something affordable."
I hate that word. It's almost as bad as saying you're a divorced female and nearing forty. "No, don't you dare change the garden." I smile and whisper, "Why mess with perfection?"
"You'll take it?" He looks stunned, as though he doesn't believe his luck.
I nod, wondering whether I'm making a mistake here. Just as I'm considering whether to tell him I'll sleep over it, my phone beeps and I read the text message:
Don't you bail out on me!!! Xoxo
Mel must be psychic. Or she has a listening device planted in the second-hand Louis Vuitton handbag she gave me for my last birthday.
I smile, only then noticing Ben's still awaiting my confirmation. "When shall we sign the papers?" I ask.
"Right now?" He pulls out a bunch of documents and presses them into my hands, saliva almost dripping down his chin. I force myself to read through the tiny print that I usually tend to skip and sign the dotted line. Then I pull out an envelope filled with banknotes. Ben s
Eventually, he smiles and dangles three sets of keys from his fingers. "Congratulations on your new business. What's it called?"
My insides turn hot and cold as I peer at him from under mascaraed lashes. "The Divorce Club."
I'm supervising the delivery guy who's just arrived with a huge stack of print paper and other office stuff, an intern from a local newspaper who's supposed to be interviewing me but has no idea what she's doing, and my chattering daughter who's talking to her first boyfriend. I should be focusing on the interview because the success of my business depends on the publicity I receive, but I can't help tune in to Sam's gushing over the boy.
A finger taps on my shoulder and I turn around. Mel's standing behind me, her straight, glossy, golden hair bouncing against her skinny shoulders, her pearly whites on full display as she says, "Who's Sam talking to? She's fidgeting like a bird caught in the rain."
"Her boyfriend." I cock an eyebrow.
Mel's jaw drops in a most unflattering way. Her forehead remains smooth. I suspect she had yet another Botox session without telling me because she knows I worry about all the poison she's injecting into her skin. "Is she even old enough to have one? In my days we gals could call ourselves lucky if we were allowed to speak to boys before the age of eighteen."
I laugh. "You don't look like you were born in the Middle Ages." The delivery guy tosses another stack of papers on the floor and I shout, "Hey, why did you even bother to climb up the stairs when you could've thrown in the parcels through the window?"
I'm not usually such a sour puss, but my last nickel went out on a stapler and several flowerpots from the local bargain store. I can't afford to print out my correspondence and invoices on smudged paper.
Mel elbows me in the ribs and hisses, "What did I tell you about bitching and journalists, darling?"
All right, I forgot. I smile and offer the delivery guy a coffee, but it's too late. Smelling the possible success coming from rummaging through other people's garbage cans, the intern girl starts scribbling.
"We can't do that. Mum would go ballistic," Sam says. What would make me ballistic? I turn sharply, narrowing my eyes as I try to catch what my daughter's talking about, but she just giggles and walks away.
"How are you going to keep that from Greg?" Mel asks.
I roll my eyes. "Luckily, I won't have to because he's gone incognito. He owes me child support for the last three months."
"The bastard," Mel hisses. "You should try voodoo."
The doorbell rings, startling me. I nod my head toward intern girl. "Can you take over?"
"Sure." Mel shrugs, flashes her PR diva grin and strolls toward the girl like a spider enclosing a fly trapped in a net. For a woman dressed in a tight pencil skirt, she moves with surprising speed and agility. I've no doubt Mel will have a fabulous time.
I open the door and let in a petite redhead, plump in all the right places. For a moment, I can't peel my eyes off her generous cleavage, wondering how much she paid for it. I'm even temped to ask for the doc's number, but then I remember Sam needs orthodontic braces more than I need a pair of double Ds. What's she doing here? What man would actually divorce breasts like hers?
"Is this the Divorce Club?" the redhead whispers conspiratorially as though she's talking about buying an illegal joint in the semi-lit backroom of a shady bar.
"Welcome and thanks for coming." Straightening my back, I nod and point at a sofa still covered in plastic foil. "We'll be opening in half an hour. Please take a seat."
I remove the plastic wrapping and start stacking my office supplies in a cheap cupboard. By nine a.m. the reception area looks quite nice. The floor's no longer obstructed by boxes, my desk's free of any clutter and the light shining through the windows casts a golden glow on the obviously fake flowerpots.
As I mentally brace myself for the speech that Mel prepared for me, the doorbell rings again and more women I don't know flood in. The room's starting to fill up. I flick through my papers, but don't look up because my heart's pumping hard in my chest. Doubt starts to nag at the back of my mind. God, what was I thinking? I was a housewife. Cooking and cleaning defined my identity for the last twelve years. Consequently, I know nothing about running a business, or mixing with the clientele, or even about getting people to sign up as clientele.
Mel appears behind me and squeezes my elbow whispering, "You'll kick butt. I know you can do it."
No idea why she has this immense trust in me when I feel like my knees have just turned to jelly and my tongue's stuck to the back of my throat. From the corner of my eye I notice Sam giving me the thumbs up and I realize I have two options. Either I suck it up and just do it, or I pack my things, close shop and give Greg the self-satisfaction that I can't earn a living without him.
Taking a deep breath, I step in the middle of the room and raise a cheap champagne glass. "Ladies, thank you so much for being here today." My voice starts shaky, threatening to break any moment, but I continue, "I'm Sarah, thirty-four, and divorced with a wonderful daughter. During my long divorce from my two-timing ex-husband, I often debated whether to take him back because I must've done something to deserve his straying. I often wished I could rely on someone to guide me through those moments when I felt worthless."
Mel starts clapping and the others join in. I smile at the sympathetic faces and hold up a hand. "The Divorce Club's here to offer women moral support through their divorces. But our little group is much more than that."
I grab a stack of colorful brochures Mel designed a while back and hand them out as I speak, now fully confident as I gaze at the interested faces. "One membership option includes the full benefits package: weekly meetings, one-on-one counseling, advice on how to deal with single life, filing for child support, learning to let out your anger and rebuilding self esteem, polishing your social skills and a 24/7 hotline. We'll help you get a job and create a personalized battle plan uniquely designed to suit your needs. If you're moving, we'll help you pack and unload. If he's the one moving, we'll help you throw his belongings out the window."
Laughter fills the room. I smile.
"If you have difficulties getting the hubby to sign the papers, we'll come up with a strategy to get the leech out of your life." I raise my brows meaningfully. "And if you sign up today you'll get the full benefit package at half the membership price. Once again, thank you so much for coming. Mel and I will be happy to answer your questions."
"What do you mean by arrangements? You're not talking about hiring thugs, are you?" the redhead asks.
I laugh and the others join in, but I can sense the sudden uneasiness. "Of course not. We're not a gang. What I meant was transforming you into something he no longer wants. We'll use psychology, undercover work and female intuition."
Several heads bob and ahs and ohs echo through the room. Mel takes over as I walk to my desk with a few women following behind, some still clutching their brochures, others waiting for an admissions form. The redhead hands me her credit card while the intern girl is taking out her camera to shoot photos. My heart flutters in my chest and I can barely breathe, so I smile because my first client has just signed up.
The room's full of excited, chirping soon-to-be divorcees. I'm having heart palpitations again, but not because of my nerves. The Divorce Club opened a week ago and boasts a staggering four members. At a hundred bucks each, I'm thrilled to say I can at least pay this month's grocery shopping—or Sam's phone bill, whichever comes first.
I've made myself a nice, little list so I can remember every member:
The Redhead aka Simone Schuster: Simone's a consultant with a major insurance company and a huge paycheck. She has the guts to dig in other people's dirt to find pretexts so the company doesn't pay out, but she can't tell her hubby that she wants a divorce because she doesn't fancy him anymore. Go figure.
Shannon, a skinny thirty-
Then there's Lucy, a fifty-year-old Glaswegian, quite chubby, with an infectious smile but a lack of a haircut. After thirty years of marriage, her husband's decided he'd rather have someone half his age―and preferably male. She keeps patting the corners of her eyes with a tissue, and I start to see that providing a 24/7 hotline might not have been my brightest idea.
Finally, there's Mindy, the youngest in the group. She's a friend of Mel's and not here to divorce her husband. As a personal assistant to a banker's wife, she's researching ways to prove the husband's preference for strippers so her employer can snatch the guy's millions in the process. I make it clear right from the beginning that we don't provide that kind of trap when she assures me we won't need to. Who would've thought my new job would be so diverse?
"Ladies, may I have your attention, please?" Mel, dressed in yet another pencil skirt ensemble with six-inch heels that make my feet ache just from watching, clinks her dessertspoon against my cheap Poundland champagne glass. I cringe, waiting for disaster to unfold, but surprisingly the glass remains intact. I make a mental note to ask her to get a whistle or something. Mel continues, "I'm thrilled to announce next week's timetable."
I get the hint and start handing out black cardboard sleeves embellished with a tiny diamante butterfly, courtesy of Sam's nail art case, which would make any nail artist green with envy. Papers shuffle and I hear first giggles and exclamations of delight. A first rush of accomplishment washes over me. It might not be the vital job of a heart surgeon, but I'm saving lives too. Sort of.