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The divorce club, p.7
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       The Divorce Club, p.7

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "Yeah, like the police would ever arrest a kid for something as stupid as watching a movie," Sam says.

  "Actually, it's true, and they'll do it too if your phone rings, so better shut that baby off."

  "Maybe later." Sam starts scrolling through the other choices and groans. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?"

  "There you go, PG13." Jamie winks at me.

  I blink several times because I can't believe what's happening here. Sam just picked a reasonable movie with no fight whatsoever. With me, she would've thrown herself on the ground like a two-year-old, kicking and screaming until she got her way. "Thanks," I whisper.

  "Mum never goes out," Sam says.

  "Of course I do." I nudge her lightly, lest she say more and risk embarrassing me. "I've just been busy lately."

  "She always says we can't spend money we don't have." I gape in horror at her, but she doesn't acknowledge me as she continues, "I try to tell her you don't have to spend money to have fun."

  Jamie places his palm on my lower back to guide me to my seat, then slumps down next to me. "I'm not sure about that, Sam. Having fun without money's getting harder nowadays. When I was a kid we used to wait until a film finished. After everyone left we'd just pretend we forgot our bags and squeeze back in, then stay put until the next film started."

  "Did it work?" Sam asks, wide-eyed.

  "Every time."

  "I don't think you should teach my daughter how to be dishonest," I hiss. "We have enough politicians in this country."

  "Don't worry. If I don't teach her someone else will. I'm kidding, Sarah." Jamie smiles and crosses his fingers so Sam can see. She bursts out in laughter. His eyes twinkle so I'm not sure whether he's winding me up or meaning it. Either way, I decide to ignore his comment.

  To my surprise, Sam takes a seat on the other side of him and starts digging into his popcorn. The film begins and I relax, but I can't stop peering at him from the corner of my eye. Sam and he whisper to each other, then laugh, excluding me from their joke. It's strange to see her so comfortable with someone other than her father.

  Time seems to fly, because before I know it the credits roll and the lights go on again. Jamie hasn't said a word to me yet, which makes me worried that I did something wrong. Maybe he finds me just as boring as Sam does.

  "I think she liked the film," I whisper as Sam visits the washroom before we head out.

  Jamie shoots me a strange look. "She just said she hated it."

  Granted, it was a bad movie, but I have this strong need to make him feel good about taking us to the cinema. "I enjoyed it."

  "She said the acting flat out sucked and the screenwriter couldn't write a good script if it bit him in the butt." Jamie smiles. "If I may give you a tip, just say the same and she'll love you for a whole week."

  "A whole week, huh? Tempting." I click my tongue. "You want to bet on that?"

  Sam returns and we walk to the car, then drive the short distance to a restaurant that boasts the 'best pizza in town' on a large banner covering two windows. I actually anticipated Pizzahut, so this sure beats my expectations. Sam seems to match my enthusiasm because she marches in and takes a seat near the window, grabbing the menu before we've even removed our coats.

  "What are you having?" Sam asks Jamie.

  He cranes his neck to scan the menu. "I'm thinking about a Big Mac Extra Value Meal."

  Sam laughs. "For real."

  "Not sure yet. Nothing with spinach though since it always gets stuck in my gap." What gap? He doesn't even have one.

  "Mum always has it," Sam says. "With extra garlic, and then you can smell her from a mile." She turns to me. "You're going to order the usual, right?"

  I smirk. "Not tonight. I'll give your poor nose a break for a change."

  She regards me intently, eyes sparkling. "Oh, yeah, dragon breath? Since when do you care, Mum?"

  "Dragon breath? Thanks, sweetie. You've just made me look a whole lot more attractive." Heat scorches my cheeks. I know she has a hard time picturing me with someone other than her father. If she continues this way, she won't have to worry about it because no one else will ever be attracted to me. I slump into my chair as Jamie orders wine for us and orange juice for Sam. It's her favorite beverage to go with pizza.

  "Don't worry, Mum. Even a bag over your head couldn't make you ugly." Sam beams up at me for a second, then turns her focus on Jamie.

  Did she just say that or was it a dream? I'm speechless; Jamie's tamed the dragon. Soon, he won't need my services, but I'll have to book him to teach me how to deal with my daughter.

  "Your mum's awesome." Jamie holds up his glass. "I'll toast to that." I stare at him, open-mouthed. I must've missed something because he can't be talking about my looks.

  Sam buries her nose into the menu as she says, "Dad used to find that too before he hooked up with someone else and forgot about Mum and me."

  "Oh, sweetie. He hasn't forgotten about you." I reach for her hand, but she pulls away.

  "He has, Mum, or he'd call."

  Jamie lights the candle in the center of the table and nods. "My father left when I was ten. I think I turned out quite well, don't you think?"

  "Did your mum marry someone else?" Sam asks.

  Jamie hesitates. For a moment his smile disappears. "She did, eventually. But we gave her a hard time. We behaved badly because we didn't want anyone to replace our dad without realizing no one actually tried to replace him. There's room for more than one person in someone's heart."

  Listening to Jamie, I can picture him as a little boy desperate to be loved by his father, unknowingly, hanging on too tight, destroying his mother's chance of finding contentment in a relationship for many years. I steal a glance at Sam who's lowered her gaze again as though she's stopped listening, but I know she hasn't because her legs are fidgeting under the table and her mouth is pressed into a tight line.

  "I'm so sorry to hear," I say, softly.

  "Don't be. We all ended up very happy even though Mum must've been lonely for a long time. I just wish I knew then what I know now. It would've made a difference, wouldn't it, Sam?"

  She nods and turns the page on the menu as a waitress approaches to take our food order. Even though I've lost my appetite I order what Sam's having. The conversation's getting lighter and soon we're laughing at stories from Jamie's past. He's been around the world, seen places, done things. Compared to him, I really feel like I've been locked up in a cave.

  "I'm having so much fun," Sam says. "I wish Mum would take us out more often."

  I shoot her an embarrassed smile in the hope she'll keep quiet. "You know I have a hectic schedule."

  Sam smirks. "Yeah, so you say."

  "You're working yourself into an early grave," Jamie says.

  What's with everyone ganging up on me tonight? "Okay, I got the message loud and clear. Working too much isn't good for you. Now give me a break."

  He meets my gaze. "There's this perfect way to unwind."

  My blood rushes to my cheeks. Is he harboring dirty thoughts? Not that I mind since I haven't snuggled up to someone in more than a year, but he'd better not blurt it out in front of Sam or I'll get up and make my exit. "Really? Let's just leave it at that."

  Jamie winks. "Paris."

  "What?" I put down the knife and fork, ready to laugh it off as a joke. Sure, why not max out the plastic?"

  Sam's eyes widen as she yells out, "Bonjour! Oh, I know all kinds of French, like how to say thank you and please."

  "We can't let her skills get rusty now, can we?" Jamie asks. Our gazes connect over the flickering candle. "Spend the weekend with me in the most beautiful city in the world—the city of light, love and chocolate croissants."

  "You can't be serious." I shake my head. "I know French food and the wine are to die for, but I'm a professional, Jamie. I don't mix business with pleasure. And what you're suggesting is definitely not business."

  "Of course it's business. I promise to tell
you everything, all my intimate hopes and secrets. You can psychoanalyze each detail and write me some kind of life plan that I promise to follow to a T."

  I snort. "Under the Eiffel Tower, right? Or on a Seine River cruise? Maybe we could squeeze in some time while visiting the Louvre Museum. Now that'd be the perfect place for a little Freud action."

  Sam claps her hands. "Yeah, Mum. You can work while we're there!" She looks at Jamie. "Can we ride the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Kendra said you can even eat up there. Can we see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum? I've heard she was actually a dude."

  I shake my head. "Not happening."

  "You're being such a killjoy," Sam says.

  I glance at my daughter. She's clueless to the cost. I can't even afford food brands, let alone a plane ticket, and what will the other clients think? Going to the most romantic city in the world with a hot hunk who just happens to be someone I'm helping to finalize a divorce? On the other hand, maybe he'll find it easier to recover from his failed marriage away from the pain of this city full of Chloe memories.

  Oh, whom am I kidding? Part of me wants to jump at the chance to be with Jamie in such a romantic setting. I could imagine lying on a blanket at the foot of the Eiffel Tower with a delectable bottle of wine, champagne glasses, cheese, a fresh baguette, and pâté. The perfect picnic would be at night, of course. We could snuggle in the soft grass at the Champs de Mars, gazing up at the fantastic light display and the stars. Just he and I. His blue eyes. His—

  Okay, I need to lose the fantasy. Sam would be there too, embarrassing me for all it's worth. Besides, I'm also supposed to behave like a professional, taking care of my clients rather than enticing them.

  "I'm sorry, Jamie," I say. "This isn't a good time."

  "What about Christmas?" Sam asks. Astounded, I glare at her, but she just glares back and shrugs. "I heard the city's decorated in millions of Christmas lights. They even have ice-skating outside. Can you believe it? Oh, if we go, I want one of those French hats. That's hot. And I want to shop at all the cute, little boutiques! Mum, they have the most fashionable clothes in the world."

  I want to scream at her, we don't live in Paris Hilton's TV show.

  "If Sam wants to go, we shouldn't disappoint her. Christmas sounds fantastic," Jamie says. "But I was thinking more along the line of next week."

  One night in Paris sounds dreamy. I feel my resolution crumble; yet I'm not ready to give in. I clear my throat. "We can't just leave everything behind and make a run for the border."

  "Are you kidding? Of course we can," Sam shouts. "Pencil it in your little, black schedule book."

  "You don't like Paris, I get it." Jamie raises his brows. "It's okay if you have a problem with it. We don't need to go there. I know this tiny place south of it, not far from Versailles."

  I shake my head.

  "Why not?" Jamie asks.

  "Because—" My brain kicks into motion to come up with an answer. Mentioning the distance won't work since France is only a mere two-hour drive away. Sam has Friday afternoons and weekends off, but I can't cancel the club meeting. There's my reason to bail out. On the other hand, a change in scenery might actually help her focus and improve her motivation. And yet deep inside I know going on a trip with Jamie's a bad idea.

  I hate to say it out loud, but I feel I have no choice. "Actually, maybe not this year. It isn't a good time financially."

  "See? There she goes again." Sam rolls her eyes and takes a huge bite of her pizza, talking with her mouth open, "It's all about money with her."

  "Why would you have to pay? It doesn't make sense since I'm the one who should be paying you for your services," Jamie says.

  I shoot him a sideway glance. "Well, you did sign up for the plan with all the bells and whistles." Now's the time to admit that I'm already charging him twice what I charge everyone else, but I'm a such a chicken, I'm too scared to do it.

  Jamie shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. This is extra. Eating lunch in a quaint sidewalk cafe and sighing at beautiful medieval architecture, while walking down winding cobblestone streets to world-class museums with two awesome girls is the perfect therapy and all I need. I'll be more than happy to foot the bill. Did I mention I own a tiny house outside Paris? It isn't a five-star hotel, but it'll do. We'll drive there, and the fridge is always stocked up." Jamie grins. "What do you say?"

  "Yeah, as long as the gargoyles don't come to life and eat me," Sam says.

  "We'll keep them glued to the Notre Dame Cathedral Towers."

  I don't know what to say to their little plan except that I'm not happy. In fact, I'm terrified because I suddenly see where he's heading. This isn't about him and breaking free of his bonds with Chloe. It's about distracting him, which is a fantastic technique to stop thinking about the soon-to-be ex, so how could I blame him for trying? But I fear for what it could do to Sam and me. He's entering our lives way too quickly and will probably leave just as fast, leaving behind a teen who's looking up at him and the bitter divorcee who enjoys his company more than she should.

  "No." I shake my head.

  "I'll pay you for the extra therapy. You and Sam can help me forget about all my worries if even for a minute, and we can work on that life plan of mine," Jamie says.

  He's so insistent he must be in pain from all his Chloe-related problems. I understand what he's going through because I've been there myself. He needs my help and I could use the extra cash. Before I realize it, I hear myself say, "Saturday."

  "Great." Jamie grins. "It's settled then. We leave on Saturday and shall be back on Sunday."

  I shrug. "Sounds good."

  "We'll go over the details after Monday's session."

  I nod. "Perfect."

  Jamie frowns as he peers behind me. I follow his line of vision, but all I can see is a busy street and a group of youngsters waiting to cross. "Are you okay?" I keep my voice low even though I've no idea why.

  "Can I try your pizza?" Sam asks. Without waiting for an answer, she cuts off a slice and drops it onto her plate.

  Jamie's gaze fixes back on me. I raise my brows. He shakes his head in response whispering, "I just thought—it's nothing."

  "Are you sure?" I ask.

  He nods and turns toward my daughter, smiling. "Yep. How do you like your pizza, Sam? Want to share with me because mine's crap."

  "I put my grubby fingers all over it, but if you insist." She beams and gives him half of what is left. My phone beeps in my handbag. I retrieve it and press the envelope sign without thinking, almost choking on a gulp of air. My eyes start to water and my hands turn cold as ice as I read the message.

  He's not the right one and u know it. Tonight no door will keep me out.

  Chapter 9

  I must've fainted because when I wake up blackness has spread over my eyes. The darkness lifts slowly, leaving behind a floating sensation in the pit of my stomach. A throbbing pain has invaded the left side of my mind. Under the watchful eyes of several people hovering over me, I push up on my elbows as I struggle to sit up from the floor next to our table.

  "Are you okay?" Jamie asks, fanning air. Groaning, I bob my head even though it hurts.

  Sam holds a glass of water to my cracked lips and urges me to take small sips, a frown perched between her thin eyebrows. "Thanks, sweetie," I whisper.

  "Mum, you can't go around scaring me like that! If you die, what am I supposed to do?"

  "The ambulance will be here any minute," a waitress says.

  I shake my head and force myself to my feet, fending off the many hands reaching for me. "I'm okay. No ambulance, please."

  "Are you sure?" Jamie wraps his arm around my waist and leads me to my seat. I nod and he turns to the gathered crowd. "She's fine. Thank you, everyone."

  "What happened? You just dropped to the floor," Sam says. "Are you trying to skip out of the bill?"

  Heat scorches my cheeks. I've never felt more like the freak in a carnival show. Why, all I need is the spotlight o
ver my head and I'm ready to go. Now's the time to tell them about my stalker, but I falter because I'm embarrassed. They wouldn't understand. "Must be the heat." I rub a hand over my forehead. "Or tiredness. I didn't sleep very well last night." This is becoming my standard excuse. I can only hope I'll be able to sort out my issues before people start digging deeper. Judging from how fast my mental health is deteriorating, they might soon.

  "If you say so." Jamie doesn't seem convinced. "Listen, I'm taking you home."

  "What?" Sam yells. "But I'm not finished with my pizza." She had such a lovely time, it wouldn't be fair on her to end the evening in such an abrupt manner.

  "Can we just eat, please?" I don't mean to snap at him, but my nerves are on edge and tears are slowly welling up in my eyes. Now that the club's set up and my life's slowly getting back on track, some wacko's starting to ruin it all. I'm so angry I could hit the wall.

  "Sure," Jamie says. I see him exchange a glance with Sam.

  "What?" Sam shrugs. "I'm starving. And pizza sucks when it's cold."

  "I'll be right back. Just need to make a call." Grabbing my phone from the table, I jump up before they can protest or offer to accompany me, and head for the back of the restaurant. From the corner of my eye, I see blinking lights outside, so I sprint for the door with the toilet sign and lock myself inside a small cubicle.

  The air smells of disinfectant and lemons. I lean my forehead against the cool wall and allow my eyes to close. I don't know how long I sit there pondering over the text message and the fact that I'm being stalked.

  "Stalked," I say out loud, testing the word on my lips. It doesn't sound as frightening as I thought it wouldjust funny because something like this usually happens to Hollywood stars and politicians, not to an average-looking thirty-something with frizzy hair and baggy clothes.

  I barely glance at my face in the bathroom mirror on the way out, only wash my hands and then return to my table. Jamie stops his conversation as he sees me approaching. Plastering a fake smile on my lips, I sit and finish my water in one gulp.

 
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