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The divorce club, p.5
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       The Divorce Club, p.5

           Jayde Scott
 
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  He's married.

  But he wants a divorce.

  He's not divorced yet. How could I have forgotten that tiny detail?

  "Good night," I say, turning my back on him. He opens his mouth, but I slam the door in his face and lean against the cold wood, my heart hammering in my chest. I don't think I could've been serious about anyone during the first three months after my divorce, so obviously all Jamie could want is a roll in the hay to get over the missus. I'm not up for that.

  Holding my breath, I wait until Jamie's heavy footsteps retreat down the alley. The phone beeps. I lock up and hurry to answer, but it's just a text message from the same unknown number as last night. My heart skips a beat as I read it.

  What are u doing with him? U and I belong together. Don't u c that Sarah?

  Chapter 6

  The guy must've been there, watching us, and I didn't even notice. I've no idea how I manage to drive home without causing an accident because I keep looking in the rear-view mirror to make sure no one's following.

  My hands are still shaking half an hour later as I wash up the dishes while trying to maintain a conversation with Sam. She's so excited about the goody bag Mel's brought over so, naturally, I can't spoil her mood. But I'm having major trouble concentrating on what she's saying.

  "Can I have it?" Sam asks.

  "Sure, sweetie." She's not usually allowed to wear foundation, but I don't have the energy to argue over some makeup, not when our lives could be at stake.

  "This too." Sam drops something black and sheer onto her heap.

  The problem with teens is they're too calculated for their own good. "Let me see that again." I lift the tiny top and hold it up. "No way, Sam."

  "Why not, Mum?" She pouts, eyes sparkling either with tears or anger. It could go either way now.

  "Because you're not old enough. If you keep arguing I won't let you have anything."

  She stomps away, ignoring me for the rest of the evening. It's just a tactic to punish me. Well, I won't be manipulated into giving in. We watch TV in the living room, then I double-check the doors and windows are all locked before I head upstairs. I stop in front of Sam's room and ask whether she'd like to sleep in my bedroom again, but my daughter doesn't respond. I lie in bed awake, unable to avert my gaze from the closed door. The phone remains silent.

  Bright rays spill through the tiny gap in the curtains when I wake up to clattering echoing from downstairs. I sit up groggily, unable to form a concise thought.

  "Sam, could you stop that, please?" I shout, but I doubt my daughter can hear me through the noise. After a quick shower, I put on my dressing gown and join her in the kitchen. A steaming cup of coffee's already waiting for me, black just the way I like it. Something's up, and I'm going to find out what.

  "You look fantastic, Mum. There's not one dark circle under those gorgeous eyes," Sam says.

  "Flattery will get you nowhere, sweetie." I smile. "Okay, so maybe a little. What do you want?"

  "There's a million deals at the shopping center this weekend. Kendra and I want to check them out." Sam's not even glancing at me, so there's more to it than spending money.

  "Sure. I can drop you off and pick you up if you want me to. Afterwards, Kendra can stay for dinner."

  Sam peers at me. "I want to go to Kendra's house and hang out. She said she'd help me with my math."

  My gaze narrows. "And she can't help you here?"

  Sam squirms in her seat, averting her gaze again. "Her mum is making spaghetti and meatballs. We're going to chow down and then study big time."

  "I can cook your favorite dish, too." Which isn't such a bad idea since I feel as though I've neglected her recently.

  "It's not the same," Sam says. "I need someone my own age to help me with math."

  Let me do the math. One thirteen-year-old girl plus another talking about algebra, minus Mum, on a Saturday night, equals nothing but trouble. I might be in my thirties, but I'm not stupid. Besides, I still haven't figured out who the text message weirdo is. Until that's not sorted out my daughter's not safe. "You can go shopping together, but no sleep-over."

  "Why not? Just because you don't have a social life doesn't mean I can't have one." Sam's voice is rising into a furious crescendo. She is morphing into the demon-possessed child from The Exorcist and could start throwing dishes any time now.

  "Because I—" What could I tell her? That a stranger's been sending text messages and I'm worried? She's gone through so much already, I don't want to send her into therapy for the rest of her life.

  "You don't even have a reason." She crosses her arms over her chest. "You're just mean and bitter. No wonder Dad left you."

  I'm gobsmacked. She's never said anything like this before. Is it what she thinks? Am I mean and bitter? "I want you to call me once you leave the shopping center and then again when you get to Kendra's place. No going out, no boys."

  She shrugs. "Oh, shoot. Now Kendra's mum's going to have to cancel the keg party."

  "What?" My mouth drops.

  "Kidding! Thanks, Mum. You're the best." Sam chuckles as she kisses my cheek.

  "Have fun," I whisper, "and no parties until you're fifty." I lean in to give her a brief hug before she heads for the door, then stops.

  "Sorry about earlier. I didn't mean it."

  "I know." I smile even though it's the last thing I want to do. "Thanks for the coffee. Call me."

  ***

  It takes me thirty minutes longer than anticipated to find Jamie's place, probably because I've never been to this posh part of the city. From a distance, the house looks large with two stories and countless windows. A CCTV sign proclaims 24-hour surveillance. I kill the engine in front of a tall gate and press the button on the intercom.

  "Sarah, come on in," Jamie's voice says.

  I stare at the black dot. It must be a camera, but it's so tiny. And there I thought it might just be a speck of dirt. The gates slide apart and I drive through, marveling at how huge the garden seems. After years of living next to two trees and a thirty-inch patch of grass, I feel like I'm driving through the Canadian countryside.

  Jamie's waiting in front of the house when I finally pull up and get out. "You've found it," he says, smiling. He looks good in blue jeans and a shirt, his hair in disarray again as though he couldn't be bothered to run a brush through it.

  I try to focus on his inviting smile, but my gaze keeps locking on the imposing building behind him. It seems so huge compared to my two-bed semidetached house that I can barely afford. I can't be caught staring because he might think I'm easily impressed by something as irrelevant as wealth.

  "It's beautiful here. I can't believe we're still on London," I say before I can help myself.

  Jamie laughs. "Trust me, I was even more surprised when my estate agent found this place."

  "Clearly, we're not sharing the same agent." I lock the car and follow him inside into a spacious hall with bay windows and tile flooring. In the middle, a staircase leads to the first floor. Two abstract paintings adorn the wall. It's all so simple and yet so stylish.

  Jamie takes my coat and hangs it up inside a hidden wardrobe, then gives me a brief viewing of the ground floor, including the state-of-the-art kitchen, the groomed back garden and his office. The office alone is as large as my bedroom. I begin to see him with different eyes, which triggers my self-consciousness. He might not be a millionaire, but he isn't living off benefits either. It makes me wonder what kind of woman he goes for. I imagine Chloe to be tall like a model with blonde hair and blue eyes, unnaturally long, shapely legs and a constant pout. And then I notice a picture frame showing a dark-haired, petite woman snuggled up against a younger Jamie. They're both laughing at the camera, a glint playing in their eyes.

  "Is this Chloe?" I ask, tracing my index finger on the silver border.

  Nodding, Jamie clears his throat and turns over the picture.

  "She looks different from what I imagined," I continue, unfazed by his sudden interest t
o move back to the living room.

  "She was a bit of a tomboy back then," Jamie says as though that'd explain everything. "Coffee or tea?"

  I'm not ready to drop the topic yet. "How did you meet?"

  "We've kind of always known each other. I think you like your coffee black."

  "Yes, black's perfect. Thank you." I follow him to the kitchen. "How did you get together?"

  "It kind of happened." He grabs two desert plates and cutlery, then opens the fridge and retrieves a cardboard box with a chocolatier logo. It's all so clean and polished, not the bachelor pad I expected at all. "I hope you like cheesecake." He winks. "It's homemade."

  He's making fun of my brownies, but I won't hold it against him and decide to ignore the remark. "I love cheesecake, thank you. So it wasn't love at first sight?"

  "Heck, no." Jamie snorts and cuts off two slices of the bought cheesecake with whipped cream. "I'm glad you're not on a diet like the rest of the female world."

  Now's my turn to snort. "Oh, I was one of those constantly dieting women until a few months ago. When I stopped trying the pounds started to come off. Funny what a divorce can do to your waistline. Let's get back to Chloe and you, though. How come she moved out?"

  "She didn't." Jamie carries a tray with our plates and coffee to the living room and sinks into the plush charcoal sofa next to me, then hands me a plate. "I bought this place a while back."

  I dip my fork into the cake and push a chunk into my mouth, thinking. "You bought this place while you were still married? You said she lives nearby."

  Jamie nods. "A few minutes from here."

  "That close? That's not good."

  "Why?"

  I swallow and regard him. "Because you'll get weak once she starts wanting to patch things up. We'll have to get you surveillance. My reputation depends on my success rate."

  Jamie grins. "You could pop over to check on me." Is he coming onto me? I put down my fork and stare at him, but he just shrugs. "Hey, it's your job to make sure I'm not relapsing. How could I not relapse when I live all by myself in this big house with no one to talk to?"

  "Weekends and evenings are particularly hard," I say.

  "I'm glad you're here. May I pinch you to see if I'm dreaming?" Jamie's voice is low and hoarse. He is flirting, there's no doubt about it. Time to change the subject.

  "Did you put up the picture in the office?"

  "What?"

  I take a sip of my coffee to moisten my dry lips. "The picture I just saw. You must've put it up even though you're separated."

  "You're right. I'll get rid of it." Jamie rubs his temple. "Look, can we just drop it for a moment? I don't want to talk about her."

  "But that's why I'm here," I protest. "As you said, it's my job to help you get through your divorce."

  "You're helping me already by just being here. So talk about anything your heart desires...anything but her."

  "Okay."

  We finish the cake in silence, then Jamie asks me about Sam.

  "How come you don't have kids?" I ask.

  That strange, distant stare of his, and he bottles up again. "Once I meet the woman of my dreams and marry her, I'll think about kids. Until then—" He trails off.

  "But you tied the knot already. Don't you marry someone because you want kids with them?"

  Jamie sighs. "Possibly."

  The doorbell rings and Jamie jumps up a little too eager as though he's happy for the diversion. For the umpteenth time I'm wondering why he's so reluctant to talk about his marriage. He joined the club to pluck up the courage to sort out his life, yet he doesn't seem very keen on it.

  The sound of a female voice carries over, but I can't make out the words. I tune out, only to gasp a second later. Jamie said Chloe lives nearby. Could she be the unannounced visitor? Tip-toing to the door, I strain to listen.

  "This is a bad time, Chloe," Jamie says.

  "Why? Do you have someone over?" A brief female laugh, then, "No! You do. Oh my God, I don't believe it."

  "Go away."

  Chloe says something too low to understand. I know exactly how poor Jamie feels. He's trapped, both emotionally and physically. Pushing her away after spending so many years together doesn't come naturally, and so he keeps quiet, hiding his frustration behind feeble attempts at asking her to leave, which she doesn't take seriously. It must be a pattern, he sending her messages and she not acknowledging them. I snap into professional mode, because that's what he signed up.

  "You must be Chloe," I say as I walk toward them, holding out my hand. "I'm Sarah."

  Chloe gazes at me for a moment, then shakes it lightly, surprised. "You know who I am?"

  "Jamie's told me so much about you." My laugh sounds superficial, alien in my ears.

  "I hope he left out the bad things," Chloe says.

  Jamie grabs my upper arm and gives it a light squeeze as he pulls me back from the door. "Actually, Chloe was about to leave, weren't you?"

  I see how he squints at her. He's sending another message, but will she listen? Holding my breath, I peer at her and notice how she glances from Jamie to me and then back to Jamie. She could be starting to shout and swear any second now, but at least a minute passes and nothing happens. Whatever she's thinking she's doing a great job at keeping her composure.

  Eventually she winks and says, "Talk to you later, then. It was nice meeting you, Sarah."

  "My pleasure," I say as she walks down the path, then disappears from sight. Jamie slams the door, jaw set, and accompanies me back to the living room.

  I touch his forearm. "Are you okay?"

  Jamie nods. "Just a bit shaken. Listen, why don't we go to the cinema tomorrow? I don't feel like being on my own."

  Pulling back, I brush imaginary fuzz from my jeans. "Uh, sure, why not?"

  "Great. I'll pick you up. Let's say seven?"

  I cock my head and shoot him a doubtful glance because I don't like where this is going. My heartbeat speeds up again. I must be imagining things. As a single divorcee, talking to men seems weird and awkward, but one of them actually showing interest is too much for me. It's not that I don't find him attractive; it's just that I'm not like I used to be when I dated Greg. My body's changed after giving birth, and I'm no longer the happy-go-lucky twenty-something whose only responsibility is to ensure she doesn't miss the after-Christmas sale. Besides, I haven't dated in years. What do women wear nowadays? How are they supposed to behave around men? I don't want to do this and yet I hear myself say, "Maybe a bit earlier, or I'll have to find a babysitter."

  "Why doesn't Sam come along?" Jamie jumps up and retrieves a remote control, then presses a button. A glass window slides open on the other side of the wall, revealing a huge plasma TV. I wonder whether he's about to fall into a motionless TV coma now to signal the end of the conversation when a cultural webpage pops up. "She's thirteen, isn't she?"

  "Yes." So I was imagining things. He's just lonely and trying to amass a clique after Chloe persuaded all their friends to take her side. I clear my throat and peer at the various film titles as he scrolls through them.

  "This sounds like something she might like." Grinning, he highlights a title and I nod even though I'm not paying attention. Unless, he's bipolar or overplaying his true feelings, how can he change moods so quickly? "We could go to McDonald's afterwards. Kids like that."

  "She's more into pizza," I say.

  "Pizza, then."

  "I've got to go. Thanks for the coffee and cake." Grabbing my bag, I jump up and head for the door without waiting for his reply.

  He catches up with me before I've even reached the hall. "Oh, come on. You just got here."

  "You're not ready for this."

  "I'm not ready for what?"

  Sighing, I turn to face him. "For the club, for my services. What else?"

  "Oh." He seems taken aback, even contrite, as though it's not what he wanted to hear. "Sarah—"

  "Yes?" Our gazes lock. For a brief moment I hold my breath, waiting f
or what he has to say.

  Jamie breaks off first. "Thanks for sorting things out with Chloe. I really appreciate it. She might've made a scene without you here. I'm so grateful you saved me from that."

  "It's my job, but you're welcome." A pang of regret hits me. What did I expect? That he'd ask because he wants me? The guy is off limits; I knew it all along. But that he shouldn't find me attractive, not even in the slightest, still hurts. "Maybe you should work things out with Chloe. She seems like a nice person." I've no idea why I said that because I don't mean it.

  Jamie just smiles and opens the door, accompanying me to the car. "See you at six then. Don't forget to text me the address."

  I nod and get in, then start the engine and drive away even though I don't want to leave.

  Chapter 7

  Sam calls on time for a change. I know she's hiding something from the fake cheerfulness in her voice. She's not usually this friendly. Ever since Greg and I split up she's been riding an emotional rollercoaster. I wish she could just get off soon, but I don't expect it to happen before she turns nineteen.

  I didn't exaggerate when I told Jamie weekends and evenings are the worst for a sudden divorcee. Too bad today falls under both categories. I switch on the TV and channel-hop in the hope of finding something that doesn't involve a loved-up couple or procreating college students, but let's face it, TV was invented with the only purpose to make us singles feel bad about our lives. Eventually, I give up and snuggle on the sofa with a new Lee Child book. I'm not into FBI work and murder cases, but at least I know I won't be finding any wooing or romantic entanglement in here, so I keep reading until I fall asleep with the lights still on.

  Someone bangs on the door. I sit up groggily and peer at the watch. It's past midnight. My head's spinning as though I've slept in the same position for too long and my heart's thumping hard. Holding my breath, I tiptoe to the window and peer behind the drawn curtains. From here I can usually see anyone standing at the front door, but it's too dark to recognize more than a black, large shape. The floodlight's been malfunctioning for a while now. With no money I couldn't get it fixed.

 
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