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The divorce club, p.6
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       The Divorce Club, p.6

           Jayde Scott
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  Who could it be in the middle of the night? Maybe something happened to Sam. But she'd just unlock the door…unless she was mugged and the bag's gone. My pulse racing, I step away from the window and move down the hall to the front door. The knocking stops and I breathe out, strangely relieved because I know it can't be Sam. My daughter would be yelling like a maniac for me to open the door.

  I move back to the living room and speed-dial Sam's number. The line rings a few times before she picks up.

  "Are you okay?" I whisper.

  "What?" Sam says. In the background I hear music and voices.

  "I said, are you okay?"

  "Why wouldn't I be?" A brief pause, then, "Mum, we really need to talk about this. It's called being overprotective, you know. Don't turn into a control freak. Kendra says it's not healthy for either of us."

  Since when did Kendra turn into Dr. Phil, the TV expert in relationship matters? Well, excuse me for making sure you're not bleeding to death in front of our door, I feel like saying, but I keep it to myself and infuse some cheeriness into my voice instead. "Sure, sweetie. We'll do that. I was just checking. Have a nice evening then."

  Without another word, Sam hangs up on me. How rude. I wonder how healthy it'll be for her when I confiscate her cute little pink phone that I pay for. I take a deep breath and lean against the sofa cushions, pressing the phone to my chest. The bushes move outside the window. I jump up with a jolt and let out a soft shriek. For a moment I consider whether to stay put and wait to see what happens next, but if it's a burglar doing nothing won't scare him. So I inch closer to the window, phone clutched to my chest, and wait there because I don't have the courage to peer out. It could be a squirrel or a raccoon, even a fox. Come to think of it, a wild animal couldn't ring the doorbell. And what's the chance of an animal looming outside the window seconds after a stranger appears at the door? My brain's such an idiot for coming up with these lame excuses.

  He's still there, I can feel it. Rivulets of sweat are running down my spine and my mind's on full alert. Time passes, but I'm too numbed to move. A soft cough carries through the silence, followed by low cussing. It's just a word, too short to recognize the voice, but the bushes shuffle and then all falls quiet.

  Is he gone now? I barely dare breathe lest he hear it and come back for me. My heart's pumping harder than before, I wait for what must be ten minutes or more. When nothing happens, I walk slowly to the front door and peer out into the darkness, all sleepiness gone. It's well past midnight, but I can't go to bed as reason returns. Why didn't I call the police? That's what a person's supposed to do in such a situation, but I didn't even think of it. Now I feel like watching the door, barricading myself inside, buying a Rottweiler—do something because I don't feel safe in my own house. The locks no longer seem as sturdy as they once did. The window glass appears thin and fragile, the neighbors’ house is too far away. I head for the sofa and prepare for a long night.


  The phone's ringing makes me jump. I find it under a pillow and press the response button, only then realizing that I'm shaking again.

  "You were supposed to pop over for some gossip this morning." I can hear the reproach in Mel's voice. "What happened? Didn't you like the goody bags?"

  "I'm sorry. I must've forgotten. The goody bag was great." It's not like myself to forget a date with my best friend. She's practically the only person I have left in my life beside Sam. "I'll be there in half an hour."

  "You know how I get annoyed when visitors drop over to my house uninvited and unannounced?"


  She laughs. "Well, I'm eating my own words. Open the gates because I'm here."

  Mel's car pulls up in the driveway as I hurry to open the windows in the living room because the air's stale with the smell of sleep and fast food. I barely make it to the kitchen and back when the doorbell rings, triggering nausea in the pit of my stomach. Pressing my hands against my ears I shout, "Stop it. I heard you."

  "You look like crap. There's this invention called makeup and this little device with bristles called a brush. You should buy one. I've heard they're on sale," Mel says as soon as I've opened the door. She walks past me and I hurry to close up again, then turn the lock because the feeling of paranoia hasn't passed yet.

  "Unlike you, I can't be glamorous twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Besides, I was still asleep when you called."

  She turns to stare at me. "You know people don't usually sleep past midday, unless they're partying all night or at college. Must be the latter because I don't see you partying any time soon."

  "What bit your bum?" Usually, she isn't this cranky.

  "Unfortunately, nothing." She follows me to the kitchen and watches me with the eyes of a hawk as I prepare a pot of coffee and warm up bought chocolate croissants. "What's the matter, Sarah? Did you meet someone? You've never forgotten about me before. And don't tell me it's nothing because I know you're lying."

  I place the hot croissants on a plate and push it toward her. We always share a plate. This way we feel as though we're eating only half the portion. "I just didn't sleep very well, that's all."

  "Where's the kiddo?" Mel asks.

  "With Dr. Phil." I bite into my croissant and burn my tongue.

  "You never told me how the first meetings went."

  What's with her and her interrogation today? I glare because I don't feel like company. Besides, I fear if she keeps staring at me without blinking I'll snap under the pressure and tell her everything. It might seem like a wise idea, but it isn't since Mel likes to exaggerate and would turn into the secret services, demanding I change my name, move to Alaska and start breeding sheep—all in no particular order.

  Mel snaps her fingers in front of my face. "Earth to Sarah, I just asked a question. Are you even present?"

  "Sorry. I stayed up late and now I'm tired." To make my point, I fake a yawn.

  Mel smirks. "Really? You never go to bed after ten. What did you do?"

  "Watched TV," I say. "And I do stay up late every now and then. I just don't tell you."

  "What did you watch?"

  "Oh, for crying out loud." I slap her arm. "Leave me alone, Mum. I promise it wasn't anything dirty."

  "It would be if you had cable." She laughs. "And there I was hoping for a moment you videotaped it."

  I begin recalling my first two sessions with my clients, leaving out Jamie. I don't know why I'm not telling Mel about him. Maybe I don't want to hear her opinion on opening the club's doors to a man. An hour later, she decides to leave, which is great since I have important things to do. With only five hours to go, I need to get hold of my daughter, then style my hair and find the perfect outfit for my date with Jamie.

  As soon as Mel's gone, I leave a message on Sam's voicemail and slip out of my clothes to take a shower when my phone beeps. My heart skips a beat, my palms begin to sweat and my throat feels choked, the tell tale signs of a beginning anxiety disorder hitting me with full force. If I ever find out who did this to me, I'll hit him with my therapist's bill.

  I'm approaching the phone as though it's a malfunctioning electric socket. The screen lights up with the envelope sign, indicating a text message. I don't want to, but I feel compelled to read it.

  You forgot to let me know your address. Hope you're not bailing out. Jamie

  Even tough I know I should keep him waiting with a response to avoid seeming eager and desperate, I reply back instantly because I can't risk him changing his mind. It's not really a date since Sam's coming along, but it's the nearest I've been to one in years, so breaking unspoken dating rules is perfectly acceptable.

  The door downstairs slams and footsteps thump up the stairs. My daughter's home.

  "We're going out with a friend. Make sure you're ready by six," I shout. I don't know whether she's heard me because she doesn't respond. She must be in a bad mood. By inviting the youth, I hope Jamie's prepared to experience chaos, mood swings and complete silence, all during a brief d
rive and the consequent dinner.

  After my shower, shaving my legs—obviously, Jamie won't be seeing them, but I need to feel like a hot chick and less like a neglected housewife—and blow-drying my hair I take out my straightening iron. I haven't used one of those in three years, so naturally I burn my ears a few times. The kinks don't seem to go away and there's so much hair everywhere I feel as though it's suddenly quadrupled. In advertisements, the model's hair's glossy and straight with one flick of the wrist, but I can't seem able to figure out the trick, so I squeeze in more serum until my scalp's all oily as though I haven't seen a bath in months. Eventually, I give up and settle on a bun tied at the nape of my neck, simple yet chic, or so I tell myself. It's just some hair, but the truth is not being able to sort out something that should come naturally to a female makes me feel inadequate, almost as though I've failed as a woman.

  The choice of outfit isn't an easy one either. Nothing seems to fit, so I put on a black V-neck top and the same pair of jeans I wore yesterday because everything else makes my butt look like I'm wearing diapers, then focus on my makeup. It's a miracle that I'm ready to go by half past five.

  There's still no sound coming from Sam's room, so I amble over. As usual, the door's closed. I knock and think I hear something that sounds remotely like, "Come in." But it could as well be, "Go away." If she gets angry, I'll just say I forgot to switch on my hearing aid. She'd buy it because she already thinks I'm old and bitter.

  Sam's propped up on her bed, the earphones of her iPod glued to her ear.

  "Are you ready?" I ask, needlessly. She doesn't respond, but I see her eyes moving under her closed lids. She knows I'm here, yet she won't acknowledge me. At times, she's the sweetest child in the world, and then there are those days when I'm wondering if my mere existence enrages her.

  I don't want to frighten her in case she doesn't know I'm invading her private space, so I touch her arm gently and give it a squeeze until she can't pretend I'm just an annoying fly. Sam rips the earphones out of her ear and glares at me.

  "Six o'clock, remember?" I say, smiling, but I feel intimidated. First the straightening iron and now the raging teen. What's with me and my inability to act like any other fear-inducing, grownup female who can silence a diner table with the blaze in her eyes?

  "I'm not coming," Sam says.

  "Well, you have no choice because I'm not leaving you here all by yourself." I pull her up. Granted, it's a feeble attempt but she actually moves.

  Sam pouts. "Ever since you opened that singles place, I've been on my own all the time."

  "It's only been twice, Sam. That's hardly all the time."

  "It's just the beginning. Once it takes off, I'll have to call your assistant for an appointment. You should close that dumb club." She yanks her arm free and stomps to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

  "You're being unfair," I shout so she hears me over the sound of running water. "I need to make a living. Do you want to sleep on the street like some hobo?"

  "We wouldn't have to if you didn't leave Dad," Sam shouts back.

  So the divorce is what bothers her again. One day she seems to be really mature about it, accepting it as a necessity rather than a choice; and the other, she seems to blame it all on me. Greg was the one who couldn't keep it in his pants because of his lusting after twenty-year-old C cups, but my thirteen-year-old daughter doesn't need to know about my intimate life.

  "Get dressed. I want you to be ready in ten minutes."

  "That's not enough time. I can't go out looking like you do," Sam mutters.

  Groaning, I stomp out, but leave the door open just in case I need to come back and check on her, which I probably will. Outside, I lean back against the wall and take a deep breath to calm my nerves. I always thought I was a good mother, but apparently I failed with Sam just like I failed in so many other life areas. Imperfections shape us into unique individuals, but in my case I don't feel unique, just defeated. I don't know what I could've done to be a better mother, but Sam could most certainly provide a whole list if someone asked.

  It's ten to six when she emerges downstairs, flowing hair framing her chubby face with huge eyes and soft, clear skin. She wears a hoody top and a short skirt with flats. It's too cold to go out dressed like this, but I'm scared of starting another argument when she seems to hate me most of the time already. A smile's planted on her lips, as though all the anger and reproach were happened. I blink nervously because I don't know what to expect.

  "Where're we going?" Sam asks.

  "To the cinema and then we're having pizza. Ready?"

  She shrugs and peers around. "As long as there isn't garlic on it because I hate it. And I'm picking the movie."

  "Fine, sweetie," I say.

  "Let's go then."

  "We're waiting for a friend to pick us up." As soon as I've said the words a car pulls up outside. Sam opens her mouth to speak, but I silence her as I hurry to open the door, my nerves from before multiplying by an indefinite number.

  "Who's that?" Sam whispers.

  "Just a client." I turn to face her, my eyes imploring. "He needs my help, Sam, and he pays really well. We can't afford to lose our income. Please promise me you'll be nice."

  She grins and pats my shoulder. "What're you talking about? I'm always nice, Mum."

  Jamie jumps out and heads toward us, carrying two small flower bouquets and a pink gift bag. He wears a clean jacket over a buttoned-up shirt. His pair of jeans looks as though it's just been ironed. I never iron my jeans. His hair's shiny and a tad longer than I remember. A hint of cologne wafts past as he hands me a bouquet.

  I smile. "Thanks. This is my daughter, Sam. Sam, this is Jamie." My hands are sweating and my heart flutters in my chest. I've never felt more unattractive, old and insecure in my skin.

  "Nice to meet you, Sam." Jamie hands her the flowers and the gift bag. "I don't know what you like since I'm only meeting you, but the shop assistant said makeup's always a good choice."

  Sam takes out a glitter palette with a tiny mirror and eye shadows in various colors. For a moment, she seems genuinely thankful as she dips her fingertip into a shimmery black and spreads it across her lid. "Wow. That's so cool. Thank you."

  Now my daughter's going to look like a hooker. Thanks, Jamie. I should be mad because Sam's not supposed to take gifts from strangers, and particularly not gifts that aren't appropriate for her age, but I can't because Jamie was just clueless and trying to be nice.

  "Get your bag then," I say. Sam takes off up the stairs as I inch closer to Jamie whispering, "Did you just try to bribe her?"

  He grins at me. "It worked."

  "No more gifts, please." I shake my head and wait for Sam to return, hundreds of thoughts running through my mind. Jamie's making small talk, but I'm not listening because I feel like the spinster aunt attempting to date the school throb. It's plain sad.

  Chapter 8

  Jamie maintains a conversation with Sam throughout most of the drive while I keep wondering what his secret is. Either he's a natural, or he has a trick up his sleeve that makes her relate to him so easily. Whatever it is, I should be happy about it, but instead, it makes me a bit jealous and irritated. I mean, he's getting along with my daughter as though they've been best friends forever while I struggle to make her like me even though she's known me for thirteen years and I try to be her chum on a daily basis. It's so unfair.

  Sam's phone rings. She picks up and starts talking. I see my chance and lean closer to Jamie. "What's your secret?" I whisper, glancing over my shoulder to make sure Sam's not tuning in, but she's busy gushing over yet another boy.

  Jamie laughs, eyes glinting as he peers at me. "It's called the 'show them you're not as old as they think you are' technique. Chloe taught me."

  His wife. Chloe. I completely forgot about her. I pull back abruptly as though I've just burned my fingers. A shadow crosses his features as he notices and his smile vanishes. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to talk about her." He runs
a hand through his hair, which is something he does very often, making me assume it's some sort of reflection of irritation with himself. "It's all so complicated. I wish I could tell you, but you wouldn't understand."

  I wouldn't understand what? But I don't ask, because there's no point in putting pressure on him. "You're married. It's only natural that you talk about her." There's a hint of bitterness in my voice I can't hide. For the rest of the drive, Sam chatters away on her phone while the silence between Jamie and me becomes uncomfortable. Thank God, we finally reach the cinema. Jamie insists he pay since he invited us, but I don't want him to because owing him is out of the question. My mother taught me if a woman lets a guy pay he'll assume he can get imbursement later in some other way. It's a strange attitude I haven't been able to shake off yet. After a few minutes of discussing the issue of payment, we agree that Jamie and Sam get the snacks while I purchase the tickets. I'm not keen on forking out eight bucks per person, but I've devised this plan of substituting some of our more luxurious groceries with Tesco Value products to save the money over a period of a month or two. Sam won't even notice.

  "What's on the big screen?" Sam asks as we queue up to hand over the tickets.

  Jamie winks. "You're thirteen. What do you think?"

  "Casino Jack?"

  "No R rated movies, young lady," Jamie says. "Unless you want the cops to come and drag you out in handcuffs in front of everyone. Wouldn't that suck for your image? And remember, jailbirds don't get pizza. I might come and sneak you some bird seeds though."

  Sam laughs as though he's just told the joke of the year. Had I said that to her she would've jumped through the roof, not talking to me for a week. She might've even cut off my head in the process.

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