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The divorce club, p.14
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       The Divorce Club, p.14

           Jayde Scott
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  "I wouldn't let her down," Jamie protests. "We can remain friends no matter what."

  "No." I shake my head. "You don't understand. She has loads of friends. I know my daughter better than you do. She listens to you, she does all the things she did with her father. Please don't encourage her."

  Our eyes connect. His gaze turns cold; his lips press into a tight line. "Sure. Don't let anyone get too close to her or you, for that matter, in case you get hurt."

  He walks back to the kitchen and slams the door. I stare at the empty space. Numbness crawls over me as I replay his words in my mind. He wasn't talking about Sam alone; I think he referred to me and him, but I'm not sure because it wouldn't make sense. A guy like him wouldn't show real interest in someone like me, unless he's heart-broken and needs a bit of fun to cheer him up. Mind, he probably thinks I'm an easy catch and would look up to him, stroking his ego, after it was crushed by beautiful Chloe. Chloe, the wife—it's astonishing how I keep repressing her existence.

  I follow him in and sit at the table, resuming my peeling. Sam peers between us, but she keeps quiet, so I speak first. "You didn't tell me math was getting worse, Sam."

  "You'd just freak," Sam says.

  Jamie peers at me with a frown. I glare back. It's my daughter, so I do things the way I see fit. "As you see, I didn't freak. We'll get you a tutor. Jamie and I aren't qualified to help you."

  "Speak for yourself," Jamie mutters. I feel compelled to kick his leg under the table, but I make do with shooting him a venomous smile.

  "I don't want a tutor. Everybody will just laugh. You're ruining my trip," Sam shouts.

  "Your mother wants what's best for you," Jamie says. At his words, she seems to calm down, leaving just a pout in place.

  I cross my arms and put on the most severe expression I can muster. "Good. It's decided then. You're getting a tutor."

  "We'll see about that." If looks could kill, Sam's would probably have me in an arm lock this instance, gasping for air as I implore her to let me live through another summer sale.

  Thank God, the timer rings, breaking off the tension. Jamie and I get up at the same time. He points at my chair and murmurs, "I'll get it." I peer at him over my shoulder because I can't stand my daughter's angry manner.

  "Sam, want to give the potatoes a nice refreshing bath and then throw them in the pot?" Jamie asks.

  She jumps at his command, grabbing the soap and turning on the water. "They're filthy. How about a bubble bath?"

  "Don't you dare," he says, smirking. "You're sneaky. I'm going to have to keep my eye on you."

  "All right," said Sam. "The potatoes are done with their cold shower. Time to throw them in the hot tub."

  "What about the vegetables?" I infuse fake cheeriness into my voice. They both peer at me as though I've just suggested frying the flowerpot.

  Sam rolls her eyes. "We're making roasted potatoes, Mum. Maybe you should stay out of the kitchen. Jamie and I know exactly what we're doing."

  "Sure. Get me when you're ready." I leave without waiting for their reply and head for my room. It's bad enough having my daughter against me all the time, but Jamie joining in proves too much to bear. I lay down fully dressed when my phone beeps on the bedside table. I know it's him the moment I see the hidden ID and open the message.

  U can't hide, Sarah. U and I have something special. How can I make u c it?

  I should've changed the number, but with the old one being the official hotline and emergency number it would've been too much trouble.

  How can he know I'm here, hiding in this room? Including me, there's only three people in this house. My hands begin to sweat; my heart thumps against my ribcage. He could've followed us, but we would've noticed. Sam wouldn't send the messages, so the only person left is Jamie. Once and for all, I need to find out whether he's playing a wicked game with me, so I sneak out and take a moment to listen in the hall. Voices carry over from the kitchen. If his phone's in his room, then he's not the one sending the messages. This is a chance I can't miss.

  The door to his room stands ajar. I push it open with the tip of my fingers and hold my breath, expecting the hinges to squeak. When they don't make a sound, I switch on the bedside lamp and peer around. The room's neat and tidy, the bed made, any traces of clothes or baggage stacked away. I scan the wooden surfaces for his phone, but don't see it, so I start opening and closing drawers without actually expecting to find it. In my head, I've made up my mind already. It must be him.

  I'm checking the last drawer when footsteps thud outside. Sam's usually not the quiet kind, but she doesn't weigh this much either. Even though I feel I have every right to be here, searching through his things, my heart jumps in my throat. The footsteps move past, then stop. What's Jamie doing in front of my door? I barely have time to ponder when he returns and the door's thrown open. Pressing my back against the dresser, I hope to somehow blend in with the furniture. His gaze locks on me and his forehead creases with surprise.

  "I was looking for something." It's the stupidest excuse I could've come up with, but it's also the only one. I just hope he won't press me for details.

  "Holy water?"

  "No." I hide my shaking hands behind my back.

  Jamie cocks an eyebrow and inches closer. "What is it? I'll help you search."

  "It's probably not even here."

  I laugh and walk past when he grabs my arm and stops me in mid-stride, his lips brush my ear as he whispers, "Are you sure?"

  He's making a move again. I hesitate as my brain kicks into motion. I can't let him think I was rummaging through his things. "Actually, I was looking for a Band-Aid because I cut myself while skinning the potatoes."

  He takes a step toward me, frowning. "Ouch. Let me see." He sounds so sexy. For a moment, my legs feel frozen to the spot and my knees turn to jelly. If I show him how easily he can make me lose my composure, there's no way he'll ever fall in love with me.

  "It's just a tiny cut. I might've something in my suitcase." It costs me all my willpower to turn on my heel and walk away without throwing a glance back. I close the door and count to thirty as I listen for his footsteps in the hall, then tiptoe to the kitchen where I find my daughter setting the table.

  I take the glasses from the sideboard as I ask, "Is Jamie here?"

  "I don't see him. Do you?" Sam says.

  Her remark annoys me, but I won't let her attitude daunt me. "You were in here with him all the time, weren't you?"

  She nods.

  "Did you see him use his phone?"

  Sam peers at me and shakes her head again. Just because she didn't notice it doesn't mean he didn't do it under the table.

  "Did he carry a phone with him?"

  "Why are you asking?" Sam puts down the napkins, brows drawn. "Are you trying to save your minutes?"

  "No." I shake my head and smile, hoping she hasn't inherited my obsessive personality to the extent that she won't drop it. "Mel's waiting for my call and I was just wondering whether we have reception here."

  "Why don't you just ask him?"

  "You're right. I should do that." I nod and turn to the door when I notice him standing there, staring at me. How much did he hear? Sam might be easy to fool because she's a teen and holds zero interest in adult matters, but Jamie's mind's too sharp and his curiosity is worse than that of an old lady.

  "We have reception. If your phone doesn't, then there's something wrong with it," Jamie says.

  "Thanks." I put on a fake smile, only now noticing the strong aroma of roast chicken. My stomach rumbles, reminding me I haven't eaten a proper meal since last night's dinner. But the way Jamie regards me I doubt I'll be able to swallow a bite. Why can't I just confront him? Maybe because we're in the middle of nowhere and it wouldn't be safe.

  "Dinner's ready," Jamie says.

  I nod and take a seat, unsure whether to help him as he takes the chicken out of the oven. He seems quite confident, maneuvering the dishes as though he's done it a few times before. G
reg couldn't even figure out how to unload the dishwasher, or so he pretended.

  "Would you like some help?" I ask.

  "No, I'm fine," Jamie says.

  He lights a few candles and we sit all together like I imagine a real family would do, but I can't tell for certain because it's not something Greg was ever keen on. Even for Christmas, he made a point of watching TV during dinner and disappear as soon as his plate was empty, leaving it behind on the table.

  "Wine?" Jamie asks.

  I smile. "Sure."

  He fills my glass and makes a brief toast. "Santé!"

  "Santa?" Sam asks. "Like the chubby guy that brings gifts on Christmas?"

  "No," I say. "Santé is the French word for cheers. It means, to your health."

  She raises her goblet of water. "The French are a funny bunch."

  Outside, darkness has descended. I fight the impulse to draw the curtains because I don't want to spoil the relaxed atmosphere. Leaning back, I watch the scene before me with mixed emotions: Jamie carving thin chicken filets, Sam smiling as she hands him her plate, the candles barely flickering. It's so beautiful and perfect that it can't be real. And it isn't, I remind myself. Not least, because he's married to someone else and it's only a matter of time before he disappears like all men do when things get too boring because the hunt is won.

  "Jamie, what's that kissing thing the French do?" Sam asks.

  I shoot her a warning look, hoping she gets the meaning. "Sweetie, is that appropriate dinner conversation?"

  Sam shakes her head. "No, not the deep French kissing. The pecks on the cheek." I gawk. How does she even know about French kissing? She wasn't supposed to learn that before turning twenty.

  "The French are famous for this custom of greeting each other by kissing on the cheek," Jamie says. "It's done between family, friends and even men, and varies from one kiss to five with the average being two."

  "Really? Why don't they just shake hands?" Sam asks.

  There's my opportunity to change the subject so I use it. "They do. Shaking hands is reserved for strangers or older people."

  Jamie stares into my eyes and smirks. "The real question is, to kiss or not to kiss?"

  I sense a hidden meaning here. I smile, sweetly. "They're to be saved for the special people in your life." Like Chloe.

  We hand around the potatoes, topping it all off with a mayonnaise dressing because Jamie swears it's the right way to eat a roast dinner. I'm not sold, but I give it a try and am surprised to find the mayonnaise gives it a funky twist.

  "This is absolutely delicious." I'm not even saying this to flatter him. "Chloe's a lucky girl."

  Jamie drops his fork, the clattering of the metal against china echoing like a gunshot through the silence. I stare at him, knowing I should say I'm sorry, but the problem is I don't feel guilt. Somehow, I'm eager to remind both of us there's another woman in his life, even if he doesn't want to acknowledge it. If I were to run away from reality, I fear my heart would jump in with both feet, eager to let down its guard. Jamie seems like a good guy, but he's a man just the same, and his species only brings trouble upon the female population.

  "Sorry, greasy fingers," Jamie says. I know he's lying from the tight lines around his mouth.

  "Do you have a computer?" Sam asks.

  "We're supposed to be on holiday," I say.

  Jamie shakes his head. "Sorry, mate. No computer."

  Sam groans. "Well, can I watch TV then?"

  "Sure." I shrug even though I'd rather not see her go and leave me alone with Jamie.

  "If you don't mind watching French channels." Jamie gets up and waits until Sam follows carrying her plate. I shouldn't allow her to eat alone in the living room in someone else's house, but I'm not keen on the drama, so I keep quiet.

  Jamie returns a minute later and takes his seat, regarding me. His probing gaze makes me nervous. "What?"

  He downs the wine in his glass and pours himself another one before he speaks. "There's something going on in your life. Why won't you tell me what it is?"

  I shake my head, instantly knowing what he's talking about. My attempt might've been thorough enough to fool anyone who didn't pay much attention, but Jamie's observation skills go beyond what I'm used from men. Would he tell me if I asked straight away whether he's my stalker? Do I even want to know the answer? If it's him, then I'm stuck with a maniac in an isolated cottage. Admitting I know his plans might not be the brightest idea. "Let's finish dinner," I say, hoping he'll agree to drop the topic.

  "Okay." He takes a deep breath. "I won't push you, but I honestly wish you'd tell me. No one can help you if you don't talk about it."

  His lips curl into a fake smile. It's obvious he's not happy to back off, but he resumes eating his dinner. After we finish, he gets up and starts cleaning the table.

  "Want some help?" I ask, standing behind him. He turns and flicks soap bubbles at me. I laugh. "Stop it."

  "Or what?" His eyes glitter, challenging. I scoop a handful of water and drench the front of his shirt.

  "You didn't!" He shakes his head. "You're going down."

  I hold up my hands because I don't fancy my clothes smelling of lemons. "No. I surrender."

  "You're lucky you gave up because somebody was about to take a bath." The glint in his eyes flames up again. Is he having dirty thoughts? I wish I could read his mind.

  "No! You wouldn't dare." I grab the sprayer and arm myself, aiming for his head. "Don't make me use this." His wet shirt sticks to his burly chest. I can't help but stare because I haven't seen one of those in a long time, which makes me feel even more like the ugly duckling admiring the school hunk.

  Laughing, he raises his hand to grab the nozzle. I spray water all over the place as I hang on for dear life. "Truce!" I shout. "Please."

  Jamie lets go. "Truce." Grabbing a paper towel, he wipes off my face.

  "I'm a big, soppy mess." My shirt clings to my skin too, but it doesn't look half as good. Not least because my flesh-colored bra peeks through, and that's not a sexy sight.

  He blows a bubble my way. "Who knew washing dishes could be this much fun?"

  I laugh and wipe a patch of bubbles off his cheek. The air's laden with something. Tension. Hesitation. My stomach clenches.

  The door bursts open and Sam appears, eyes narrowed. "Mum, you have soap all over your hair. You look like a raccoon with your smeared mascara. And, Jamie, you're soaking wet like a drowned rat. What are you two? Five years old?"

  "We're washing the dishes," Jamie says. I've no idea how he can stay so cool when my heart's racing.

  "Uh-huh." Sam rolls her eyes. "What's next? A water balloon fight? I should get paid for babysitting you two."

  "How much do you charge?" Jamie asks.

  "I'm going to watch some more TV. Don't make me bring out the mop." Sam slams the door behind her.

  I was wrong. Jamie can't be my stalker because there's nothing creepy about him. We finish cleaning up the kitchen and I retreat to the privacy of my room. In spite of the turmoil inside my head, I fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow. My mind feels groggy like it's wadding through water when I wake up with a jolt. I try to make sense of the faint sounds I'm hearing: a scratching followed by muffled bumping.

  Chapter 16

  Nothing's more frightening than being in an unknown house in the middle of nowhere at night-time. I daren't breathe as I slowly push the sheets aside and stand, struggling to gain my balance as my eyes adjust to the darkness. The closed shutters filter the moonlight. Shadows dance across the wooden floor. Investigating strange noises has never been my favorite pastime because I'm not the courageous type, but my daughter's next door and I need to make sure she's well.

  I open the door and step into the cool hallway, halting in my tracks to listen. It's quiet again; the strange scratching slash pounding has stopped. All doors are closed. Slowly, I move from window to window. Nothing stirs. I should wake Jamie, then again I'm not comfortable entering his bedroom after he caug
ht me last night. He might not even be in there. Or worse, what if he's naked? He might think I'm a pervert.

  What if something happened to Sam? The thought hits me with full force, settling in the pit of my stomach like a knife and leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Jamie's been too nice and attentive that it's started to raise red flags in the back of my mind. My anger flares up, the compulsive need of overprotection kicking in. I stomp down the hall to Sam's room and yank the door open, ready to punch and shout.

  The furniture's bathed in darkness. The contours of a slim shape are visible beneath the covers, but that doesn't calm me. He could've heard me and might be hiding. I switch on the light and pull the sheets aside. Letting out a startled yelp, Sam sits up and blinks against the sudden brightness. Her eyes are hooded, her features drunken with sleep. The picture somehow doesn't register with me.

  "Where is he?" I hiss, searching under the bed. No one's there, so I move to the small wardrobe and look inside.

  "Mum? What're you doing?" Sam sounds scared; her voice is thin and whiney.

  "I know he's here." The haze clouding my mind begins to dissipate and I take in my daughter's shape, wide eyes filled with fear, her hands clasped around the sheets as though she's regarding a mad woman, which I probably was a minute ago.

  "I heard a thud. Is everything okay?" Jamie asks from behind me.

  I turn to face him, feeling guilty for my ludicrous insinuations. "I thought I heard something." My words blurt out as my cheeks start to burn.

  "Maybe it was a scavenger. The woods are nearby," Jamie says.

  "Yes. I didn't think of that." Eager to turn away from him, I hurry to tuck in my daughter.

  "You know Jamie was just kidding about all that vampire stuff, right?" Sam asks. "This is France, not Transylvania."

  I let out a weak laugh. "You're right, sweetie. Sleep well."

  "Yeah, I thought your first reaction would be to grab a stake and race to the kitchen for some garlic." Jamie places his hand on my shoulder as I turn to leave. "Are you all right?"

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