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The divorce club, p.12
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       The Divorce Club, p.12

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "He has a mistress," I whisper.

  "Exactly," Mindy snaps. "I've kept my mouth shut for years because he always said it's just about sex and I can't satisfy him the way he needs to be satisfied, but he's taking things way too far now."

  I need to get out of here before someone calls the police and my daughter spends the next three years fending for herself because I'm behind bars for breaking and entering. "Can we talk somewhere else, please?"

  Mindy blinks several times, then stretches her lips into a forced smile. "Of course. Let's sit in the kitchen."

  I shake my head. "Is there a café nearby?"

  "There's a McDonald's," Mindy says.

  "Sounds good." I breathe out, relieved, as we step outside into the cool air. The tension's slowly dissipating. Even Mindy smiles again, and this time it's genuine.

  The local McDonald's is a small drive-through with only three tables, which makes me assume people in such a posh area probably don't eat here often. We pay for our coffees and sit at the table farthest from the service personnel.

  "What do you think?" Mindy takes a sip and smirks. I push two sachets of sugar across the polished counter. She stirs them in, but doesn't drink.

  "You could be right that he's seeing someone else. The telltale signs are there."

  "Yes," she hisses. "He's going down. Shouldn't have messed with me."

  I rub a hand against my temple as I consider my words, wondering how to start. "Mindy, I'm not sure this is healthy for you."

  A frown crosses her brows. "I've no idea what you're talking about."

  "You're still young. Don't let someone else steal your naivety by dragging you into something that shouldn't concern you." Our eyes connect over our cheap plastic cups. For a moment, there's a glint in her eyes as though her soul is speaking to me, imploring me to keep going and save her. Then it disappears, leaving behind a weak smile and a rigidity I didn't notice before.

  "It's my job, Sarah, just as much as what you do is your job. I don't judge you, so please don't judge me."

  My breath catches in my throat and my legs threaten to buckle under me. "I didn't mean to sound like—"

  She shakes her head. "No, let's leave it at that. Please don't think you know me. Just because I'm young doesn't mean I haven't seen the messed-up side of relationships."

  "Fair enough." I drain half of my coffee even though the heat burns my tongue and I taste nothing. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to offend you."

  "The club's pamphlet says something about surveillance and helping out with providing documentation," Mindy says.

  I hesitate. It's obvious where she's heading. "I can do an all night stake-out, no problem. But I'm not a professional. I've never done this before. A private detective might be the better choice."

  "She's rich and doesn't trust anyone. If this got out and made it to the papers, can you imagine the scandal it'd cause?"

  For a second, I'm confused because of the sudden jump from first person to third. It takes me a while to realize Mindy's out of character now and talking about her boss. "Still, Mindy, he'll probably play dirty to give her as little money as possible. If she wants to take him to the cleaners, she'll need more than a few amateurish shots."

  Mindy peers around as though to make sure no one's listening, then inches closer whispering, "It's not about money; it's about her dignity and losing her place in society. The pictures will never even be offered in court."

  So, she plans to blackmail him into buying her a nice house and staying married for the sake of her reputation and pride. This is way more than I can handle, but as usual I can't help myself. Mindy looks so earnest and helpless that I feel my hesitation crumble under my feet.

  "Please, my job's on the line here. If I do this, she'll write me the best reference ever and then I'll finally be able to set up my own personal assistant agency."

  The kid has hefty goals, I'll give her that. "What the heck. We'll do it."

  "Great. Let's devise our battle strategy right now." Mindy's mood changes could easily keep up with those of my daughter. I can't shake off the feeling I've just been manipulated. On the other hand, she seems like a genuinely nice girl. How could she possibly try to wrap me around her finger?

  "You didn't make a list, did you?" I gawk in horror as she winks and pulls out a sheet of paper with bullet points.

  "He disappears every Tuesday and Friday after work and doesn't usually come home before I go to bed." Mindy pauses for effect. When I nod, she continues, "I say we let him think it's business as usual, but we follow him to see what he's up to."

  That isn't much of a plan really, but I dare not tell her, so I nod again. "What if he's just doing late-night shifts at the gym?"

  "Pumping iron?" Mindy snorts. "You've got to be kidding. But in case he does, I have another plan." She taps on the paper. "In fact, I have a few of them. The first involves you playing bait and then luring him into a hotel room for a romp and some dirty pictures."

  I shake my head and laugh. "No, missy. I'm not doing that."

  "Why not?" Mindy peers at me as though I've just said I'm not joining the recycling trend, or saving the whales.

  "Because it's—" I struggle to find the right word "—immoral."

  "It doesn't have to be." She fishes in her purse and retrieves a slip that resembles a check. "A thousand should be worth your while."

  "You're offering me that much money to pretend I'm sleeping with the husband? Who would even believe that?" I pinch my arm because I must be dreaming. Let's face it, I'm no Giselle Bundchen, but some men have fancied me in the past, so it can't be that sordid. I shake my head to get rid of the uber-long list showing me all the good things I could do with the money.

  "I've been told he prefers the chubby type even though he expects me to work out seven days a week and cut all the carbs."

  "Did you just call me—" It doesn't matter, I tell myself, because to her I'm probably ten years and several pounds past my sell-by date. "I'm not doing it."

  "It's a lot of cash," Mindy says. "Do you realize glamour models make much less than that?"

  I snort. "Well, that's good to know so I don't consider a change in career any time soon."

  Mind grabs my arm and inches closer, her eyes as big as saucers. Frankly, she's kind of starting to freak me out. "You don't even have to do anything. Just take off your clothes and pretend to make out with him. Did I mention we're talking about a grand here?"

  Yes, only a million times. My mind's reminding me of the loan I had to take out to pay Greg almost half of what we've invested in the house so far. The check wouldn't cover it, but it'd contribute to a few repayments.

  "You know, Sarah, it's okay. Just forget I asked." Mindy reaches in her purse for her cell phone. "I'll offer the money to Shannon."

  "Shannon? She'll never do it."

  "Oh, yeah? She's struggling because she doesn't have a job. I know she fears losing her house. The money's more than enough to give her a nice start."

  I shake my head. "You can't possibly be serious."

  "I'm dialing." Mindy smiles. "Oh, it's ringing." I can see she'd drag Shannon into this mess in a heartbeat, and Shannon might just play along because she's vulnerable and needs the cash. I can't let that happen. My resolution's starting to crumble again. It is easy money, and Mindy said the photos would never make it to court, so if no one sees them then there's no harm done.

  "Hang up," I say.

  She snaps the phone shut. "I knew you'd see my point. Are you sure?"

  "I'm doing it only because of the money," I whisper. "And I'm not taking all my clothes off, just flashing a bit of thigh here and a shoulder there."

  "Good girl." Mindy pats my arm and slips the check into her bag. "You'll get it when the deed's done. The sooner, the better. Let's say, tonight?"

  I almost nod when I remember the planned trip to France and the thousand other things I still need to do. "Not this week."

  "You're bailing out," Mindy says.

  "I'm not
. I just have something else that I can't cancel."

  "Well, if it's more important than my job, go on." She crosses her arms over her chest and pouts. Luckily for me, I was married for fifteen years so I know the signs of emotional blackmail.

  I stand, ready to leave. "Next week, Mindy. That's my final offer."

  "You didn't even make a proper offer." She pouts for a few more seconds, then smiles again. "Okay, but don't change our plans."

  "I won't." The promises keep flowing from my lips. Once I get home I'm going to pay Amazon.com a visit and order myself a few instruction guides on learning how to say 'no.'

  Chapter 14

  I have barely time to heat up lasagna for my starving daughter and grab a bite myself before turning to the laundry pile waiting to be ironed and the still empty suitcases. Last night, Jamie texted to confirm the pickup time. It's the only time I heard from him since Monday, which makes me doubt that he really wants this trip. Maybe his invitation to France was a spur of the moment decision and he's too polite to cancel. I'm not keen on going either; not that I wouldn't like to spend time with him and get to know him better, but I don't want to have my heart broken so soon after the disaster with Greg. Jamie isn't ready for more than a flirt, and I'm not ready for something as insignificant as a flirt.

  Obviously, I'm aware he could still be my stalker, but the facts speak against it. For one, if he were a stalker he couldn't keep away from me for four whole days. I think I'm more of a stalker because my mind can't stay focused on anything else for longer than five minutes.

  Jamie's car pulls up in the driveway. I prepare to shout for Sam, but she's already sprinting down the stairs, a huge grin playing on her lips. I might as well be invisible, because she runs past without acknowledging me and opens the door before Jamie can press the bell.

  "I saw you pull up. Can't wait to get there," Sam says. "I Googled everything. It doesn't say anything about shops—"

  "Sam, take a deep breath." I look at Jamie, grinning. "She's not excited or anything."

  He smiles and holds out a small bag, this time no flowers. We're in a hurry and don't have time for opening gifts, but I don't dare argue in case Sam's turning into a raging fury. So I stay in the background, regarding them in spite of the floating sensation in my head and the nausea in the pit of my stomach. It's surreal how comfortable they seem around each other, Sam hovering over Jamie's old smartphone he apparently no longer needs, and Jamie already explaining the functions as he swaps the SIM card. She's been begging for a new phone for ages, but how did he know?

  "I have something for you too." Jamie walks closer and presses a box the size of two bread rolls into my hands. I remove the brown wrapping and blink, unsure what to say. He's given me an ambient light thingy? "You said you have insomnia. I've been told the blue light does wonders for your biorhythm," he continues.

  My what? "Thank you. I didn't expect it. This sure beats downing three glasses of wine and two Ambien an hour before bedtime."

  He laughs. "I've been looking forward to your sense of humor all week." He points at the luggage blocking the hallway. "Are you moving out?"

  "Those are Sam's shoes," I say, maintaining my poker face. "Can a woman really have too many shoes? Not according to my daughter."

  Jamie doesn't even blink. "I don't mind one bit as long as she doesn't own a pair of five-inch stilettos."

  "No, that'd be me."

  "Sexy. So where are the rest of Sam's bags? She wears clothes too, right?"

  I laugh. "I was just kidding. That's all of Sam's stuff, including clothes. Mine's the tiny roller in the kitchen. There wasn't enough room left in the hallway."

  "Of course. Sounds plausible," he says. "I was just yanking your chain."

  "Maybe I should've said those were all my shoes."

  He winks. "Now, that I would've believed."

  I laugh. "Why? Because I'm a sharp dresser?"

  "Absolutely. You look stunning."

  I know he's just giving me what I want to hear, but I let myself fall for it anyway. "Thank you. Are you trying to butter me up so you can pick your favorite radio station on the drive there?"

  "We'll have a great time. I can tell already," Jamie says, starting to carry Sam's baggage to the car.

  Greg would've made a scene, spoiling the next twenty-four hours with his complaining, but Jamie just laughs. Either he's too good to be true, or he's hiding his true colors to appear in a good light. I peer at him from the corner of my eye, searching for a chink in that perfect armor, as I help him load the car, but there's nothing that gives away his pretense.

  "I'll grab my roller," I say and head back in. When I return Sam's already sitting in the passenger seat, phone pressed to her ear.

  "Ready?" Jamie asks from the doorway. He seems eager to get going.

  "Do you want to grab some quick snacks to take on the road for your own sanity? You know teenagers, no snacks equals a whiney kid and a grumpy parent." I lock the door because I know his answer already.

  "We can buy something on the way there." He opens the passenger door and points at the backseat. Sam groans, but swaps seats without arguing.

  I wait for him to start the engine and drive a few miles before I say, "You didn't turn up at the meetings."

  "Yeah, I figured it'd be for the best given how stressed out you were by my presence." He clears his throat and switches on the radio. An eighties song resonates through the speakers. It's probably my sign to drop the topic, but I've always been good at ignoring clues.

  I lean over the headboard and press a button I assume will decrease the volume. Instead, the music booms.

  I go with it and vigorously shake my head up and down because I haven't felt so excited for years. "Head banging to Def Tiger. Now that rocks," I shout as Jamie turns it down to a mellow level.

  "You didn't turn that up on purpose." He snorts. "And for some reason you don't strike me as the head banger type."

  "Of course I am," I protest.

  "Yeah? Then you might want to get the band right. It's called Def Leppard."

  "You sure?" The corners of my mouth start to twitch. Jamie's such a cool guy, no wonder even Sam likes him. Greg would've made me feel stupid for years.

  "Since you're such a huge fan, we'll stop at the store and pick up some Led Zeppelin to listen to over dinner," Jamie says.

  He can't be serious. I couldn't stand that noise for longer than five minutes. "Oh, no. You're doing enough already."

  "No, I insist," he says. "You love it, right? I want to make this trip memorable."

  I shake my head. "You're such a sweetheart, but I couldn't possibly enjoy it without my denim jeans and groupie t-shirt."

  "You're a groupie too? Of which band? And don't say the one we just heard on the radio."

  "There's so many to choose from." I peer at Sam, my eyes imploring her to help me.

  "Hey, I wasn't even born yet, old lady." She slumps into her seat and glues the phone back to her ear.

  "The metal group. Metallic."

  "Metallica?" he asks, grinning.

  I nod. "Yeah, that one."

  He laughs. "Nice try. Any other favorite band? I bet you don't even know any more."

  "I actually do." I kick my brain into motion, but the memories are rather faint. "AB/CD."

  "Don't you mean AC/DC?"

  "What would the girls back at the club think of us, if they knew we were dashing off to France for the weekend?" I ask, eager to change the topic before he realizes I've no idea what I'm talking about, if it's not too late already.

  Jamie shrugs. "Who cares?"

  "They'd faint right on the spot, but I'm only here to help you mend your heart."

  "Rumors spread like a bushfire." Jamie's lips jerk. He's about to wind me up again. "They could say you're dating your client, the guy you're actually trying to fix. It's like a psychologist seeing his client. That's just hot and taboo."

  "No one's going to find out. Besides, we're not dating." Yet. And if that happens, I'll
deal with the consequences because there's no way I wouldn't date this guy—once his divorce is finalized and I can be sure I'm not just a rebound. "I'm here to help you sort things out and get you through all that pain you told me about. So, what's going on with Chloe?"

  Jamie's tone turns chilly. "Maybe you are the head banging type, because I have a headache now."

  "Who's Chloe?" Sam asks from the backseat. And there I thought the phone glued to her ear would keep her from paying attention.

  "His wife." I peer at him from the corner of my eye to catch his reaction. He doesn't even blink.

  "I didn't know you were married," Sam says. "Where's the ring?"

  Jamie's jaw sets. "My soon-to-be ex-wife."

  "Is it because of Mum?" Sam leans between the front seats. The topic has her attention now.

  "Of course not," I snap. "He joined the club because his marriage isn't working any more. We didn't know each other before."

  "But you're helping him divorce Chloe, so it's because of you, sort of," Sam says.

  What's with my daughter and her inability to stop judging me? I turn to glare at her, hoping she gets the message and returns to her phone call, iPod or whatever teens do these days. Jamie doesn't bother to respond, so I feel compelled to return to the topic at hand. "So, how are things with Chloe?"

  "Okay." He shrugs as though he doesn't really care. "Can we talk about something else, please?"

  "Yeah, Mum, what's with the buzz kill?" Sam yells.

  I've no idea what language she's speaking so I ignore her as I whisper to Jamie, "I see you're not in the mood to have this weekend ruined because I can't switch off work for a while."

  He cocks his head, shooting me a fleeting look. "You said it, not me."

  I nod and stare at my lap. Sam snuggles on the backseat and starts chatting on the phone again. The silence between Jamie and I is awkward, but he doesn't seem to want to start another conversation, so I close my eyes and tune out, hopeful to get some of the sleep I missed in the last few days. I wake up when the car halts with a jolt.

  "Need to stretch your legs? Grab a snack? Coffee? Potty break?" Jamie asks. "Long list, I know." Rubbing my temple where it hurts from leaning against the window, I shake my head. "Sam and I are going to buy out the entire store. Are you sure you don't want anything? Speak now or forever hold your peace." He smiles.

 
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