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The divorce club, p.15
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       The Divorce Club, p.15

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "Obviously not if you and Sam think I'm looking for Graf Dracula." I walk into the hallway. He follows me after switching off the light and saying goodnight to Sam.

  "We were kidding, Sarah. Seriously, are you okay?"

  It's the umpteenth time he's asked this question. If he keeps repeating it I swear I'll blurt out everything because I can't keep it in much longer. "Yep." I smile even though he can't see me. "Just a bit shaken. I'm not a wilderness girl. I wasn't born with Steve Irwin DNA."

  Jamie snorts. "This isn't the Amazon jungle. The closest thing we have out here is Pierre, the postman, who we swear is a Chimpanzee because of his big ears. The village is just a few miles away. The only predator you'll find nearby is a fox." He puts a hand to his chin. "Wait, no. I'd better not even mention the scariest one of them all. You'll never get back to sleep."

  My heartbeat speeds up again. "What else is out there?"

  He shakes his head. "You don't want to know."

  "Yes, I do. Tell me."

  "All right." Jamie pauses for effect. "I'll tell you, but only because you asked and I don't think there should be any secrets between us. There's this fuzzy fella called a bumblebee."

  "Seriously?"

  "You better bee-lieve it." His words have the desired effect. I feel the strain taken off my shoulders. His handgrip tightens as he inches closer, pressing his lips against my temple. For a moment, I forget to breathe as he whispers, "If you hear anything else, call me first before you venture back into Blade Trinity."

  I laugh.

  "Good night, Sarah," Jamie says.

  "Good night," I whisper. The door clicks shut and I return to my room alone.

  Pulling the covers around me, I find any traces of tiredness gone, so I spend the rest of the night assessing my behavior. Maybe Jamie was right when he said I turned into a woman that hates the entire male population. Or why else would I keep searching for ways to nourish my distrust in him?

  I don't know when I fall asleep, but the next thing I know is someone knocking on the door. Rubbing my throbbing temples, I sit up and say, "Come in."

  "Breakfast's ready." Jamie's head pops in and disappears just as quickly.

  I slip on my clothes and give my teeth a quick brush, then join him in the kitchen. Jamie's busy at the stove, frying eggs and bacon. Sam's sitting at the table already, sipping a huge glass of orange juice. She shoots me a rare smile as she pushes her half-full glass toward me.

  "Thanks, sweetie," I whisper.

  "Did you hear any more strange sounds?" Jamie asks as he places full plates of steaming bacon and eggs in front of us, then sits down. The aroma makes my stomach grumble.

  "Thanks," I say. "You didn't have to go through all this trouble. We would've been happy with doughnuts."

  "Oh, please. You are my guests in my home. Nothing but the best."

  I watch Jamie take a bite first, before I give it a try. The bacon's crispy but not burnt. It tastes even better than it looks. "No more sounds," I say, chewing.

  "There were faint tracks outside the door. It was probably a fox in search of food. You must've scared her with all the noise you made." Jamie cocks an eyebrow.

  I shrug. "Yeah, well, after living in London for sixteen years you can't blame me for jumping at the sound of a break-in."

  "That's what you thought? That someone was about to rob us in the middle of nowhere? The only thing around here that resembles a masked bandit is a raccoon." Jamie laughs and Sam joins in. They're making fun of me. Even though I'd like to set things straight that it wasn't what I thought, I let them believe what they want because the truth is much more shocking.

  "Just drop it." I slap their arms playfully.

  "What do you say to a morning walk to help you become acquainted with nature?" Jamie asks. "You know the stuff that grows outside walls?"

  "Trekking through the forest in a pair of muddy boots on a rainy day sounds like my kind of fun." I wink at Sam. "Let's do it."

  "Mum grew up in a village," Sam says. "We used to visit all the time when I was a child."

  I smile because she's still a child to me. "That's right. We haven't been in years."

  "What happened?" Jamie inches closer, truly listening. His interest in such mundane things never fails to amaze me.

  "My parents and Greg didn't get along, so I guess we just stopped going." I shrug as though it's not important, but it is. Greg's selfishness and inability to compromise robbed my daughter of a variety of experiences.

  "I'm sorry to hear," Jamie says. "My favorite memories are being outside in the sunshine, chasing dragonflies by the pond in our backyard and dangling across the river on a rope swing. It was a blast, but nothing was funnier than making mud pies the size of basketballs." He laughs and shakes his head. "When we came home, we were filthy from head to toe. I don't think my mum could tell the difference between us and the mud balls. You wouldn't want to see her face."

  I nod, trying to imagine him as a little boy. "Those are beautiful memories, but who's 'we'?"

  "My—" He stops himself before he elaborates. "It doesn't matter. Can't wait to go for a walk. What about you?"

  We finish breakfast and retreat to our rooms, leaving the dishes in the sink because Jamie says he'll take care of them later. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours I'm wondering how Chloe could let a man like Jamie go. Then I realize sometimes people don't appreciate what they have until it's gone.

  I change into a pair of baggy jeans and sweatshirt, slip on my coat and wait for the others in the hall. Sam arrives first followed by Jamie who looks her up and down with a smile.

  "Pas question!" Jamie says.

  "What?" I ask.

  "It means, no way." I laugh as he walks over and points at Sam's kitten heels. "Aren't you the fashionista?"

  I wink at her. "We city girls have the right perspective of the great outdoors, huh?"

  "I just hope she has ninja reflexes or else it might be flat down into the mud. Let's just pray we won't have to tow you out of there. It might take a while."

  "Fall?" Sam asks. "Oh, please. Not a chance. I've never taken a tumble in my life."

  Jamie nods. "Your balance may be as solid as a tightrope walker, but the shoes are history. You might want to take one long, last look at all the glitter and sparkle in those babies, because when we get back, they'll be trashed. I hope they're not your favorites."

  "Don't worry. We'll give them the proper burial in Jamie's backyard," I say. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to—"

  Jamie nudges me, laughing. "That's a wedding, silly."

  "No, trust me. In my case it was a funeral," I whisper in his ear so Sam doesn't hear.

  We smirk at each other, and I know he agrees.

  "Did you just say burial? Do you know how long I saved up for them?" Panic crosses Sam's face as she peers from Jamie to me and then back to Jamie. "I'll get my trainers."

  "That's my girl," I whisper as we wait for her.

  "We did something amazing here," Jamie says. "We reached out and saved a pair of shoes."

  I laugh. "Nothing feels better than that. You were fantastic."

  He squeezes my arm and shoots me a crooked smile. A moment later, Sam appears again wearing her beat-down Adidas and we head for the woods in the distance.

  Light-grey clouds dot the morning sky. A soft breeze stirs the autumn leaves, carrying the scent of the ocean. I take a deep breath and hold it, enjoying the rich oxygen and the promise of freedom. Jamie takes my hand and we walk next to one another, admiring the purity of our surroundings without the need to talk. My lips curl into a lazy smile; a sense of belonging replaces my reservations.

  Even Sam seems to enjoy herself. Or so I think until she takes out her iPod and turns on the music full blast. I watch her back, the relaxed stroll and the confident shoulders. It might not look like it to people who don't know her well, but I can tell she's different here, more carefree—the way a child should be.

  "We should come here again," I say.


  "Yeah?" Jamie grins. For a second I swear his blue eyes shine.

  I nod and squeeze his hand.

  "Tu est belle."

  I've no idea what he just said, but it sure resonates like music in my ears. "You're speaking French and it sounds so romantic. You could be ordering a Big Mac with fries or stating your undying love and I wouldn't know the difference."

  He smiles. "It means, you are beautiful."

  Heat scorches my cheeks. "Thank you. I'm flattered."

  "About Chloe—" Jamie starts. "There's something you should know."

  "Will it make me mad?"

  He hesitates as though gathering his thoughts. "Probably."

  "Then tell me another time. Let's not spoil this moment." I bite my lip to keep me from demanding he make his big revelation nonetheless. But the moment is perfect, and for some reason I feel special to him as though my worth in his life isn't devalued by her role as his chosen one to be his wife.

  "As you wish. Why didn't you return to the country after your divorce?" Jamie asks.

  I'm not confident baring my soul in front of him just yet so I say, "No money, no job prospects. Besides, Sam wouldn't be easily dragged away from her friends."

  "She's young. She'd make new ones in a heartbeat. And you could've sold the house."

  I hasten my pace as though walking faster could help me get away from his inquisitive mind. "I couldn't. The mortgage isn't paid off yet. I doubt my parents would be eager to take me in. And living in rented accommodation with the benefits of dirty dishes and late night partying next door might've been fun during my college years, but at thirty-four I gather I'm a better role model than that."

  Jamie stops and stares at me, wide-eyed. "That's how old you are?"

  Oh God, I didn't just tell him my age! I open my mouth to lie when I realize there's no way he'd believe it since Sam's thirteen and it wouldn't add up with finishing higher education. So I just nod and roll my eyes. "Didn't anyone tell you never ask a woman about her age?"

  "I didn't. You told me." Jamie laughs. "I wasn't counting you as old. I just thought you had Sam at a young age."

  "How old are you?"

  "Thirty-four."

  He's lying. I know from his driving license he's thirty-seven. "Thirty-four, huh?" I raise my brows, amused.

  "Yep. I'm nowhere near my sell-by date yet."

  We reach a clearing overlooking the village. The view over the white rooftops with the smoke rising from the chimneys takes my breath away. I've never seen anything so charmingly medieval, straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale.

  "Do you know why I chose this place?" Jamie asks.

  I shake my head in response, barely able to peel my eyes off the serene scene before me.

  "It's so old and simple," Jamie continues. "Exactly the way I imagine life once was before this whole industrialization crap took over."

  "You want a simple life?" I blink, thinking I must've misunderstood because I figured him as someone who dots on his notebook, smartphone and plasma screen.

  "I plan to have one when I retire, but until then I have to suck it up and work for a living like everyone else. I joined the club because I thought it might help me get past all the meaningless stuff I do on a daily basis just to make money."

  Realizing I'm still holding his hand, I drop it and turn to stare at him because I've no idea what he's talking about. "What? How could the club have possibly helped you?"

  He blinks several times, then rubs his neck. His eyes move about as though he's uncomfortable. "You're right. Forget what I just said. This place's making me confused."

  Rule number one in dating says, Thou shan't be nagging and probing, but I can't help myself because I feel this is important on a subconscious level. Besides, it's not like we're dating in any way. "You can't blame it on this place. It doesn't make sense. So, how could the club have helped you overcome your dissatisfaction with your job?"

  "It couldn't." Jamie lets out a slow breath. "You're the most stubborn person on earth. Even more stubborn than I am, and I'm a mule."

  I know his statement isn't meant as a compliment. Now's the time to back off in order to present myself in the best light possible, but pretending to be someone I'm not isn't my style. "You bet I'm stubborn."

  "Okay," Jamie says. "I thought joining the club might help sort out my life."

  "Your married life?"

  He nods. "Yes, my married life. I thought after that's dealt with I can finally do what I really want to do in life."

  "We're here for you. You'll get what you want out of the experience." I pat his arm and turn back to the village stretching below.

  Jamie points down the path where Sam's strolling out of view. "I don't know about you, but I'm thirsty. There's this café that serves the best café au lait and Pain au chocolat in the world."

  "You're spoiling me." It was meant as a joke. I doubt he took it that way though. Jamie's mouth stretches into a wide grin.

  "I try my best."

  I peer at him, considering his words, as he hurries after Sam. The path leads straight into the busy town center. The cobblestones are slick with the remnants of morning dew. In spite of the cloudy sky and the thick clothes covering almost every inch of skin, the villagers seem surprisingly good-humored, going about their activities with a smile. It stands so much in contrast to the sour attitude of most Londoners that for a moment I feel surreal as though I've just crossed the threshold to another world.

  Jamie starts greeting people in French like he knows them personally. I wrap my arm around Sam's middle and pull her close, nodding as I go along because I've no idea what to say. We slip through the narrow streets between old stone buildings until we reach the café with its glass exterior and a blackboard advertising the meal in French.

  As we enter, a bell rings over our heads. We strip off our coats and sit near the back overlooking the other empty tables. A grey-haired woman records our order while I take in the romantic interior: a large candelabra that looks as though it could drop any minute taking down the whole ceiling with it, candles and a single rose in the middle of every table, the intricate curtain covering half the window. This is what Jamie likes? He's even harder to figure out than I imagined.

  I stir my coffee and relax as I glance out the window. We stay at least an hour, lingering over our food because there's no need to hurry. Even the locals outside seem to stroll as though they have all the time in the world. There's no sightseeing, nothing that would attract tourists except for the vineyards a few miles away, so we spend another hour walking through the streets with no specific purpose or direction. By the time we decide to return to the cottage it's midday. We have a quick sandwich in the kitchen and then pack. I'm sad to turn my back on this tranquil world with its lack of haste and commercialism, but Jamie promises we'll be back and next time we'll arrange to stay a little longer.

  "We could come over for Christmas," Sam says. "I can help you decorate the Christmas tree."

  Jamie's extended his invitation only because it's the polite thing to do, which doesn't mean he plans to carry it through. I make a mental note to talk to her and set things straight later when Jamie says, "I'm up for it. Hopefully, your mum doesn't have other plans. I make the best cookies ever and don't have anyone to share them with."

  They peer at me now. I'm outnumbered, but I can still try. "Maybe we can have a bake off since I make a pretty mean batch of cookies myself. I'll let you know." There's no doubt I'll give in if Sam persists. I haven't seen this sort of enthusiasm in her in months, and it's only right to nourish it.

  "I'll make it the most magical week of your life." Jamie starts the car and we head down the narrow street. "We'll string up lights, hang up Christmas stockings and chop down our own Christmas tree."

  "Can I pick the tree?" Sam asks.

  "Why not?" Jamie shrugs. "Just make sure it's no scrawny Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Then again, we could put up one red star just like Charlie. That might be cute."
>
  "Yeah." She laughs. "We'll look for a tree nobody loves."

  I snort. "What a better way to show our love and caring spirit." A week with Jamie? Sam's not the only keen one here. From the corner of my eye, I glance at her, making sure she's busy with her iPod, then turn back to him. "Why are you doing this?"

  "What?"

  We reach the village and drive through before I've decided how to put it. "Spending time with us. This bonding with Sam."

  Jamie hesitates, probably considering his words. The way we tread around each other reminds me of two predators circling each other as they establish their territory.

  "It's fun being around you," Jamie says.

  I shake my head. "Men define frequenting strip clubs as fun, not hanging out with a thirty-something divorcee and her moody teen."

  "If you honestly believe that, I'm sorry for you. I don't deny some men are jerks, but you can't categorize everyone based on a few bad experiences."

  The way he says it seems so earnest I almost believe him, until I think back to Greg and the many times he lied to me to get away and meet his mistress.

  "I like spending time with you," Jamie continues. "You almost make it sound like it's a crime."

  "There was a time when I trusted people." I stop myself before I reveal more. Jamie doesn't need to know about the pain and humiliation still lingering in my heart. I'm over Greg, however, being betrayed by a loved one leaves scars behind. What hurts even more is the knowledge that he knew I was hurting and didn't care enough to either walk out on us straight away or stop his selfish behavior.

  "It's still there. You just need to let it out again."

  I cock my head and smile at him. "Maybe."

  "Why do you spend time with me?"

  Jamie's question takes me by surprise, but I regain my composure quickly. "That's an easy one. You're my client. It's my job to make sure I get you back on track."

  He remains quiet; his jaw sets. Did I say something wrong? I wish he'd just tell me instead of giving me the silent treatment.

  "You wanted to hear something else," I say.

 
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