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The divorce club, p.10
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       The Divorce Club, p.10

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "Can't be any worse than reporting them to the health department for spreading a STD," Simone says.

  "No, you didn't!" Mindy giggles and starts making notes again. The others join in.

  "We've heard a few examples of what jealousy can do," I say. "Jealousy isn't pretty since it brings out the worst in us. It's not a sign of love; it's a sign of weakness, of wanting to possess someone because of low self-esteem."

  "So, you're telling me if I'm jealous I'm in fact self-conscious?" Jamie asks.

  "That's exactly what I'm saying. Wasn't I clear enough?" I sigh and turn slowly to face him, fury blazing in my eyes because I remember the wet towel and the rose petals. He looks so innocent with his sparkling blue eyes. The corners of his mouth twitch as though he isn't taking any of this seriously. I stand and point at the door. "Can we talk for a second? In private."

  He nods and follows me into the hall.

  "What are you doing?" I hiss.

  "What?" He stands too close to me, but I don't dare move back a few steps, lest the others hear us.

  "In there—" I take a deep breath "—could you just keep quiet for a second so I can get on with my lesson? Thank you." Turning on my heel, I head for the door when he grabs my arm.

  "Sarah, I don't know what I did wrong, but I'd like to make it up to you. Let's have dinner tonight."

  I turn to regard him. His expression seems so sincere; his whole attitude screams innocent. What am I doing, scaring away my clients? He's not my stalker. He can't be because we never met before. I should've thought of that instead of acting unreasonably. I shake my head and rub a hand over my face.

  "No? Okay, I understand," Jamie says.

  I should keep quiet and let him deal with the rejection, but I don't want to see him hurt. Besides, having dinner with him sounds fantastic.

  "Let's have dinner," I blurt out before I can stop myself.

  The smile returns on his face within a heartbeat, and I wonder whether I'm making a mistake here because his enthusiasm isn't normal for a guy. On the other hand, the poor man's going through a divorce and needs all the company he can get. He's even paying me for it, so I'd rather have dinner out than a phone glued to my ear while listening to his whining and crying.

  "How's Chloe?" I ask, just to remind him I haven't forgotten that tiny inconvenience in his life.

  His expression turns grim. "She's fine. Look, can we do dinner another time and just meet up for our appointment tomorrow? I have this thing I completely forgot about."

  He just brushed me off. Even though I feel less unsettled than before, my smile is forced. That should teach me to keep my mouth shut about the soon-to-be ex. The others peer at us as we return to our seats. Lucy's leer says more than a thousand words, but I won't let it bother me. The job's calling. Time to play the role of the professional divorcee again.

  I've barely resumed my conversation when I hear the entrance door open and close. That's the beauty of having such a small office; it's all so tiny I can hear the moan of relief and the consequent toilet flush next door. Another client would be fantastic news, but the clicking of impossibly high heels against the scratched floor announces the presence of someone else. Mel.

  "Hey everyone. What's up?"

  What's she doing here? I should be asking her to leave before she spots Jamie and all hell breaks loose. But somehow I'm frozen to the spot and my mouth won't open to follow my brain's request. Mel's eyes move like those of a hawk, taking in detail after detail, and then settle on the man sitting next to me. Her face changes in an instant, from surprise to disbelief to suspicion.

  "Sarah?" It's just one word, but somehow it makes me shiver—and not in a pleasant way. What can I say? I'm scared of her. "Sam wasn't kidding when she said you had a man in your club. I thought the girl was delusional or misunderstood you. So I came here to see for myself. Guess my question's just been answered."

  I shake my head. "Mel, listen—"

  "Mindy, why didn't you tell me?" Mel scans the faces until she settles on the poor personal assistant. Mindy lowers her gaze. I guess I'm not the only scared one here.

  "It's not what it looks like," I jump to my feet and drag Mel back into the hall again, pulling the door close behind me.

  "You let a man in here. What's wrong with you?" Mel hisses.

  This is way too much drama for me in one day. I'm so mentally exhausted from all the stalking and the clue searching that I can't even form a half-hearted denial. Mel takes my silence as an affirmative.

  "Who is he and why did you do it? Is it because he's hot?"

  I shake my head. "He threatened to sue me if I didn't let him join. And he pays more than double what I make from the others. I need the money, Mel."

  She glares at me suspiciously. "Are you sure it has nothing to do with the fact that he's hot?"

  I blink, considering whether it'd make sense to lie. Eventually, I sigh and roll my eyes. "It didn't play a huge role."

  "He's married, isn't he?" Mel hugs me tight and whispers, "Oh, darling. He's not ready for anything serious yet."

  "I know that. We'll keep it strictly professional." Thoughts of our pizza and movie date flash through my head. I keep quiet, and I'm not mentioning our upcoming trip to France either.

  Mel's lips stretch into a doubtful smile, but she says nothing as we return to the room. Everyone's staring at us, the tension's palpable in the air. I need to break it so we can continue where we left off.

  "Mel, this is our newest member, Jamie. Jamie, this is my friend, Mel," I say.

  Jamie stands and shakes her hand. "Hi."

  "I'm her best friend." Mel cocks an eyebrow, and I groan inwardly. I appreciate her trying to make a point here, but if I didn't scare him off already, she will soon.

  With so many interruptions, the session will keep me here longer so I quickly text Sam and then return to work. Mel pulls up a chair and sits behind me, still eyeing Jamie. I wish she'd just leave, but I can tell that's not going to happen any time soon.

  "Jealousy," I begin. "It's an emotion stemming from low self-esteem and a need to possess to prove our worth. It's also an emotion that will keep you from moving on and finding your luck with someone else. Once you realize your own worth and work on your confidence your feelings of insecurity will dissipate together with any jealousy."

  "What if someone does things just to make us jealous?" Shannon asks.

  I nod because she has a valid point. "Then you'll have to ask yourself whether this person's the right one for you. Just as much as you show jealousy because you're insecure, others will try to make you jealous when they lack confidence and need to manipulate your emotions to feel wanted."

  "Everybody wants to feel wanted, darling. It's why we dress up, do our hair and buy Cosmopolitan to learn how to please a guy even if we don't enjoy it," Mel says.

  "That's the problem, don't you see it?" I turn to face her. "You don't need perfect clothes and hair to be beautiful. That's what our consumer society tells you to be like. As a result, you lack the confidence to be yourself. Let's get back to the topic at hand."

  "I'm no longer jealous," Jamie says. "Does that mean I've moved on and am ready to date again?"

  Is he sending out a message? Does he want to date again? I hesitate, considering my words, when Mel cuts me off, "No, it just means you're a narcissistic moron who moves from one woman to the next without getting emotionally involved."

  Shannon gasps and the room falls quiet. My hands start to shake with fury. As much as I appreciate her help in love matters, this is business and business comes first.

  "Someone's confusing professionalism with obnoxiousness. I'm sorry, Jamie." I glare at her, hoping she has the sense to leave before I lose a client tonight, but Mel just shrugs and looks away. "The answer isn't that you're ready to date again because you're not even divorced yet."

  "Actually, I'm going to go with a big, fat yes," Lucy says. "Now, do you date older women? Or should I say more experienced?" She winks.

  I fe
el Jamie's eyes burn right through me. My cheeks grow hot. "There's this woman that I can't stop thinking about," Jamie says. "I've only had one date with her. Technically, it really wasn't a date, but I know she's beautiful, sexy, smart, caring, and funny."

  Simone sighs. "That's so sweet. Boy, is that one lucky girl."

  "Isn't that the truth?" Shannon says.

  "He doesn't want to sulk over his old life." Simone nods. "Fair enough. Basically he's saying, 'He chooses to laugh rather than cry'."

  Jamie grins. "See, someone here gets me."

  I roll my eyes. He's a major player. Chloe's barely out the door and he's already found a replacement.

  "Sarah, what do you think of this woman that's captured Jamie's heart?" Simone asks. "Is it going to last?"

  "For the moment. He'll dump her as soon as the next pretty face comes along." Mel nudges me with her foot and whispers in my ear, "Who'd want to date a soon-to-be divorcee anyway? A rebound relationship reminds me of a ticking bomb, ready to explode any minute."

  "Stop it," I whisper to Mel. "Well, Simone, I think the lady has enough sense to stay friends with him so he can heal and get over Chloe. Otherwise, she's just a rebound relationship."

  "Rebound relationship? Never heard of those," Mindy says, "but she should go for it because it sounds like a lot of fun."

  Jamie grins. "I think she should too. What do you think, Sarah?"

  My temper flares up again. Why did I think he was interested in me? He's young, rich and single. Of course, he's out there testing the waters. I'll never let a pair of blue eyes and tangled hair fool me again. Forcing my lips into a smile, I say, "Tell me more about her."

  Mel whispers in my ear, "Some poor sap has already staked her claim—until he dumps her. Honestly, I feel sorry for the girl. Too bad I couldn't talk to her myself and put some sense in that hard head of hers. She's just going to get her heart broken."

  I slap Mel's knee. With her yapping, I'm missing what Jamie's saying.

  "My dark days have a ray of sunshine again." Jamie pauses, taking a deep breath. "She makes me laugh, and she even makes the best pancakes I've ever tasted."

  "Breakfast. He's sleeping with the poor soul. I bet she doesn't know he's still legally married," Mel mutters. "That broad needs to open her eyes. Aren't you glad you're not that naïve to fall for his cheap lines?"

  I nudge her. "It's none of our business."

  "So, Sarah, should he go for it?" Shannon asks. "Is he ready? I'd hate this poor girl to miss out on this wonderful opportunity. I'd jump on it in a heartbeat."

  "I think you might be rusty," Lucy says. "I, on the other hand—"

  Shannon shakes her head. "You're even rustier since you're older, but nothing a can of oil won't fix, right, Lucy?"

  Lucy leans forward, gaze blazing. "Oh, I never pretended to be younger than I am, but unlike you, I've learned the art of flirting. The way you're ready to toss yourself at the next best lad's just desperate."

  I groan and sink deeper into my chair as I wait for more drama to unfold. It's all my fault for letting Jamie join us. Why do women get out their claws every time there's a man around?

  "Whoa, ladies," Jamie says. "Let Sarah continue with the meeting, please."

  I smile even though I'm not thankful because he started it all with his little demonstration that he's already moved on, and now everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. "Jamie needs to really make sure the door's closed on Chloe before he leaps into another relationship because it's not fair on the woman to raise her hopes and then have them crushed."

  Jamie grins at me, seemingly pleased with the answer. The session continues without further incidents, for which I'm most grateful. We break up to get some coffee and cake. I grab Mel's arm in the hope to see her alone in the kitchen. She breaks free, unfazed by my insistency.

  When I return with a laden tray, I notice Jamie staring at a car parked outside. It's just a car, I tell myself, yet sudden uneasiness settles in the pit of my stomach.

  "Who's that?" I ask.

  Jamie turns to face me, his eyes settling on the chocolate muffins. "Don't know, but it's been there for an hour."

  My heartbeat speeds up. "Really? Do you think he's watching us?"

  Jamie shrugs. "Don't know. Maybe he's just waiting for someone."

  I nod because his calm demeanor’s rubbing off on me. "Yes, probably." It has to be true. On the other hand, if it's my stalker, then it shows that Jamie's not guilty.

  "It's just—" Jamie frowns.

  "What?" I ask, breathlessly.

  "It's probably a coincidence, at the restaurant I thought someone was watching us from across the street. It might've been the same car."

  That leaves me speechless. The same car, what are the odds?

  "As I said, I'm being paranoid." He laughs and buries his hands in his jeans pockets. "I'm not always like this."

  "It's okay, I'm always like this." We both laugh and return to our seats. By the time the session's over, the car outside's gone.

  Chapter 12

  The washing machine's still on with last month's clothes when I leave the house to get to my second individual meeting. Under normal circumstances, I'd be more responsible and switch it off, however if I don't wash today and iron on Thursday I doubt I'll have enough clothes for our weekend in France.

  Shannon only lives a borough away, but judging from the white-fenced detached houses and their small yet immaculate gardens, I could as well be in Wales. No wonder she's not keen on losing her visa and giving up the money she's invested in her beautiful home. I park in the driveway next to a black SUV and get out. She's already standing in the doorway, dressed in a short skirt, high heels and a tight top that reveals a little too much cleavage. I couldn't have done a better job.

  "Sarah, you came." Shannon air-kisses me as though we've been friends forever. In this instant, I feel as though we have been, or at least partners in crime.

  "Of course, I did. Why wouldn't I?"

  "Come on in." I can tell she's nervous from the way she wriggles her hands. She's stalling for time. This makes two of us.

  "Sure. We can spare a minute or two."

  Shannon smiles, relieved, and leads me into a spacious living room decorated in white and dark mahogany colors. It's not as spectacular as Jamie's but I can tell she didn't skimp on the interior design. "Please, take a seat. I'll be right back."

  She disappears while I peer around. A fireplace with decorative logs covers half of the wall. Several picture frames line the pane above it. I inch closer and hold up a photo in which a young man has his arm draped around a younger Shannon.

  "I thought you might have a sweet tooth."

  I jump, clutching the frame to my chest. "How did you guess?" I put the picture back. And turn my back on it. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

  "Don't worry." Shannon places two cups of café latte on a side table and comes closer. "That's my brother. I haven't seen him since moving here."

  "It must be tough leaving behind your family to start a new life." I sit on the sofa and grab my cup, ready to hear a long story, but Shannon's surprisingly reticent.

  "It's hard starting from scratch anywhere." She takes a sip of her coffee and watches me do the same before she says, "Things aren't working out between Miles and me, but I don't want to go back to the States yet. I like my life here."

  I squeeze her hand. "That's why I'm here to help you sort out your issues."

  "Do you think we can do it?" Her eyes turn shiny as though with excitement, but it might as well be fear. I don't want to raise her hopes in case they get crushed, so I hesitate, hoping—praying—I don't have to answer. She nods, getting the message, and changes the subject. "You're not from London either."

  I laugh, thankful for the lighter topic. "How could you tell?"

  She shrugs. "Maybe it's the way you speak, or the way you behave. I can't quite pinpoint it. I might be American and not yet accustomed with the British way of life, but you strike me as different."
r />   "I grew up in a cottage near Brighton and only moved to London to study psychology," I say. "After meeting Greg, I never considered moving back because this is where he wanted to live. Deep down I yearn for the values and simple way of life of my childhood. It drives me crazy not to be able to give my daughter what I once had."

  "She might not like it."

  That's something I never considered. For a moment, I ponder over her words. "I guess you're right. Shopping in a tiny mall can't beat Oxford Street." I drain my cup and eye the untouched cake. As inviting as it looks, I don't think I could swallow more than a bite.

  "Oxford Street blew my mind. Who wouldn't love two miles of nothing but shops? That's what I call pure boutique heaven," Shannon says. "You're not hungry either, are you?"

  I shake my head and stand, suddenly nervous. "Not really, but thanks so much for the coffee."

  "Time to go, I guess." Shannon hesitates, the hands jiggling returning again.

  We take her car because she knows the way and keep silent throughout the short drive to the bank. The closer we get, the stronger the tension in the air. Eventually, we park in front of a grey building and step out.

  "It's a small branch," I say. I'm not sure I like that.

  Shannon moistens her lips as she leads me through a narrow door into the reception area. "The offices are situated at the back. The mortgage advisor's already expecting us."

  "I hope he's single," I whisper. "The married ones are harder cases to crack."

  The receptionist takes Shannon's name and asks her to wait until she's called. I keep my gaze lowered to the cheap rug as I mentally recall my plan one more time. A man in his twenties, with slicked back blond hair and dressed in a pin-stripe suit and silk tie approaches. His gaze travels up Shannon's long legs before he meets her gaze, and his cheeks turn scarlet. Pulling his big glasses as he asks us to follow him to his office, he reminds me of Woody Allen. He probably has failed to realize yet we're no longer in the 1970s.

  What he called his office is an ugly cubicle dominated by a huge mahogany desk and glass windows that give a false sense of anonymity. My heart beats faster. If I'm nervous, I don't want to know how Shannon feels since her existence depends on our performance. I smile at her and then turn to the advisor. His nametag reads Jake.

 
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