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The divorce club, p.8
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       The Divorce Club, p.8

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "Anybody want coffee and desert?" Jamie asks.

  I shake my head. Sam doesn't want anything either, so Jamie pays the bill. I don't argue to split it, but I vow to take him out as soon as my wallet allows it. Outside, a star-less night has descended. The air smells relatively clean given that we're in a traffic-infested city. On the way home I keep silent until Jamie parks the car and accompanies us to the entrance.

  "Sam, why don't you go inside? I need to talk to Jamie," I say as I unlock the door.

  "Why? Are you guys going to kiss? The last thing I want is watch you make out with some guy you just met."

  I smile. "Don't worry. No one's kissing."

  Sam pulls a face and squeezes in, but not before throwing an interested look over her shoulder. She's not stupid, I know that.

  "At the restaurant—" Jamie starts.

  I hold up a hand. "No, don't."

  "But there's something going on. Why don't you talk about it?" It's so easy for him to say when he's not really opening up to me either.

  "There's this huge mess in my life right now." I take a deep breath, hesitating. How much should I say? Should I disclose anything at all? Would spreading out my life in front of a client make me seem less professional? Probably, I decide.

  Jamie inches closer and whispers, "I see you've overextended yourself with the club, and I want to help. You can pay me back later even though I don't want you to."

  Why do men always think it's all about cash? It angers me that he should see me the way Greg did: unable to fend for myself and Sam, always reliant on someone else. "This isn't about money. Even if it were, you're my client, not my benefactor. I'm supposed to be the one helping you, not the other way around."

  "You're pregnant?" A shadow crosses his face. He doesn't mind having a thirteen-year-old around, but give him a newborn and some diapers and he's likely to make a run for the hills.

  I roll my eyes. "My personal life's no one's business. My job is to counsel you, help write a life plan and get you through the pain of this divorce with Chloe. I'm a professional, Jamie. My personal problems won't get in the way of my job." He studies me, his blue gaze narrowing. It's none of his concern, but I can't let him think I'm having a baby. "No, I'm not. Okay?"

  His smile returns. It's so easy to make a man happy, just tell him you're not expecting a child and any depression will dissipate within seconds.

  "I've been having—" I consider my words carefully "—insomnia recently. And some panic attacks."

  "Must be from all the responsibility you're carrying on your shoulders." He moves closer and starts massaging my shoulders with firm, knowing fingers. He's trying to score. No man would ever say something like that without harboring thoughts of hooking up at the back of his mind. Surprisingly, the idea seems rather appealing. I lean into his touch even though it feels awkward.

  "Do you always massage your employees?"

  He smiles. "Sorry?"

  "I'm your life coach. I should be comforting you, not the other way around."

  His laughter tinkles through the night. I've no idea why he's so amused. "That's what I originally thought, too. And let me tell you, the pain's still there."

  "Huh?" I ask, looking up.

  "Nothing." He shakes his head and removes his hands from my back. "I'll suffer through the pain if you're at my side to help."

  Behind us, the door opens and Sam calls out, "Hey, you should get inside. A house was robbed down the street. Apparently, the guy's armed and dangerous."

  I wince. The text message flashes through my mind. Sweat starts trickling down my back. Not only do I have to deal with a stalker, now the worry about a dangerous criminal on the loose has just joined the list of reasons why I should seriously consider moving to Alaska. "Great. I won't sleep one wink tonight. Now that I'm a single parent I don't feel safe in this area any more." It's just half of the truth. I don't feel safe, but it has nothing to do with the area.

  "It's not that bad." Jamie peers around him, then back to me. His eyes shimmer in the darkness.

  I want him to stay. Even if he has never engaged in mortal combat, he's a man and fighting's programmed in his DNA. "Would you like to come in? I was thinking we could work on your life plan. You've been avoiding it for a while."

  "Can't think of a better way to spend my Saturday night." Jamie grabs my hand and pulls me inside, then locks the door. "You're trembling. I can sleep on the sofa if you want to."

  "No, that's not necessary." I'm lying because I don't want to look pathetic. Secretly, I'm praying he'll insist.

  "I have a fetish for sleeping on sofas." He winks. "Not really, but if something happened to you, who'd pen out my life plan?"

  I laugh. "Of course."

  "No, seriously, Sarah, you have a daughter to think about. With a robber in the vicinity, I don't want to leave. There's safety in numbers." Our gazes connect and I switch off for a moment, mesmerized by his blue eyes. "I'm staying."

  I try to smile, but my heart's hammering in my chest, making it impossible to breath. "You make a great point. I cordially invite you to be my protector and sleep on my sofa."

  "But only on one condition." He laughs.

  "Anything."

  "No life plans tonight. Just TV."

  "Deal." I hold out my hand, but he pulls me into an awkward hug. "Thank you, Jamie."

  "My pleasure." His voice is low, carrying hundreds of promises, or so I imagine.

  He's staying the night. That's exactly what I wanted to hear. I switch on all lights and show him around. Part of me wishes he'd suggest moving in, but that might be too much too soon. Instead, I settle for pretending a night in front of the television set will free me of any developing disorder. Whatever he's offering will have to do for the time being. Tomorrow I plan to call in a security company and have a burglar alarm installed. I might even get that Rottweiler I've been secretly dreaming about in the last few days.

  If Sam finds it strange that Jamie's sleeping here, though taking over the sofa as I assure her, she doesn't show it. She changes into her sleepwear and joins us downstairs like she used to do when her father was still living here. I brew tea and make us microwave popcorn, then go in search of a new toothbrush, bedding and a towel. From the door, I make sure Sam and Jamie aren't paying attention as I check the doors and windows just to be on the safe side. But my routine's less vigorous than before. Having a man here gives me a false sense of security. Even though he's neither invincible, nor immortal, the whole cliché of how a male protects his territory kicks in and I feel myself tumbling into our society's century-old gender roles.

  Suppressing a yawn, I pull out the sofa and prepare his bed. Sam's already left for her room, so I'm alone with Jamie saying goodnight. He stands left from me, too close, as I fluff the bedding.

  "The pillows are going to do wonders for my neck," Jamie mutters.

  "They're not that bad. So, finished." I flatten the cover and stand. "Make yourself at home."

  "Then I can sleep in my boxers?"

  He's trying to break the ice with jokes. "Uh, I don't think so. There's a thirteen-year-old upstairs in case you've forgotten."

  "I know. I wouldn't dream of it," he whispers. "I hope my presence makes a difference."

  "It will." I walk past, my heart pounding in my chest. He places a hand on my upper arm, stopping me before I can reach the door.

  "What are you scared of?" His voice's low, even lower than his whisper, but somehow I can sense what he's saying like there's something inside our minds that helps us communicate without words. "He hurt you, but not all men are the same, Sarah."

  I don't turn because I don't want to face him. His eyes are burning holes in my back. He's not like Greg, and yet he is. The personal assistant was the other woman in Greg's life. Now I fear I might turn into the same thing for Jamie, hurting Chloe along the way, with the only difference that Jamie wants a divorce.

  "You haven't talked about her the whole day." I sigh defeated. "Does she even know what's goin
g on inside you? You should tell her. You once loved each other. You vowed to stay together. Maybe it's not too late to save what you have."

  "Sarah—"

  "Goodnight, Jamie." I shake my arm free and walk off. Upstairs, the bedroom's dark and cold. I thought having someone here tonight would make a difference to my insomnia, but it doesn't. Any traces of tiredness gone, I switch on my notebook and start my research on stalking. The more I read, the more I'm horrified. This isn't a phenomenon that hits the rich, famous and beautiful. According to studies, a quarter of women have been stalked at some point in their lives, some of these cases even end in casualties. It's almost one a.m. when I decide to check my emails before switching off the lights. My inbox shows three hundred messages, all from the same sender—a bunch of numbers and letters.

  I've been spammed before, so I know the risks. There doesn't seem to be an attachment so I open a message anyway. It's just a string of meaningless numbers and letters again. In the middle, there's an imbedded blue link called 'Sarah's World'. I click on it and am transferred to a black website with blood red fonts and photos of me; it looks like countless snapshots, from my last Halloween party at the local pub to me running errands, even recent ones where I'm heading out of the club. In a blurry one, I'm standing in front of the window, dressed in my black nightgown, as I pull the curtains for the night. Thin rivulets of red color run down the sides of the screen as though it's covered in blood.

  My hands start to shake. I feel violated, broken inside. It's what these people try to do, break your will and leave you shattered so they can pretend to pick up the pieces and stitch you back together. But the knowledge doesn't help make a virtual altar less gruesome. I spend yet another night awake, staring at the door because I'm too scared to turn my back on it.

  ***

  At breakfast, I'm wondering why I'm not telling Jamie what's going on. I always thought I'd never let anyone turn me into a victim, but talking from a third person perspective and acting when facing a dangerous situation are two different things.

  "You have a nice sofa." Jamie rubs the cricks in his neck. He looks so comfortable sitting at my kitchen table, as though it's where he belongs. "Haven't been sleeping on one of those since—"

  "Wifey put you out in the 'doghouse'?" I prompt.

  He blushes, embarrassed. "Something like that."

  "Let me make it up to you by cooking you breakfast fit for a king." I get up and start rummaging in the fridge even though there isn't much there because my daughter eats for ten and I can't keep up with the shopping.

  "Wow. Where can I submit my application to be your bodyguard? I'll take waffles, pancakes, hash browns, French toast, bacon, sausage and eggs."

  I don't have half of the stuff he wants so I place a bowl of cereals and a carton of milk in front of him. "The eggs were all sold out. Maybe I shouldn't have said the 'king' part."

  "Sold out eggs?" He doesn't even blink as he tucks in with a grin. "I love your homemade cooking."

  I sit next to him and start sipping my coffee, regarding him. He looks so cute with the first signs of morning stubble and his hair in disarray. My heartbeat picks up in speed, but not at his sight. Shame's slowly crawling over me at the memory of that website. I know it's not my fault and yet I can't help but think that somehow I provoked that wacko's personal attack on me. Maybe I smiled at the supermarket checkout when I shouldn't have. Or I offered to pay his change when he didn't have any. I do things like that out of goodwill and a constant attempt to be nice. Maybe not being a bitch's what got me into trouble in the first place.

  Sam, fully dressed in jeans and a tight top, comes in and plops down on a chair, staring from me to Jamie and then back to me as though she only now realized he stayed over. Her shoulders seem tensed, her mouth pressed tight. "Mum, the zombie look's not in. Just because you're forty doesn't mean you're dead."

  "What? I'm not that old." I glance at Jamie. "Really, I'm not." Trust my daughter to always find new ways to embarrass me.

  "You look it," Sam says.

  Jamie smiles and pushes a glass of orange juice toward her. "Here. There's nothing like sunshine in a glass."

  "You sound like a commercial." Sam laughs, then shoots me a venomous look. I've no idea what I've done wrong. Maybe she's upset because she thinks a new man's taking her father's place.

  "He slept on the sofa. Remember?" I whisper.

  Sam just shrugs as though she doesn't care, but I know she does.

  "Let's just call it a trial run," Jamie says.

  I cock an eyebrow. What does that mean? Before he moves in? My heart skips a beat. But he's already changed the subject.

  "You get to see me in all my blazing glory with my crazy bed hair, stubble and bad breath. Best to scare you now rather than in France."

  I groan. Okay, he's talking about our get away this weekend. I don't know why I jump to conclusions like an infatuated teen.

  "Don't forget the wrinkly clothes." Sam laughs. Why can't she laugh like that at my jokes? "Actually, you look scarier than the gargoyles we'll get to see."

  "Hey, we can't all wake up looking like glamour queens." He clears his throat. "Or kings."

  "If you don't mind," Sam says, "I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine."

  Jamie leans forward, serious. "Sure. What's her name?"

  Sam whips something out of her purse. "Brush."

  "You need to get her on the comedy circuit. She'll make you a killing." Jamie laughs and ruffles her glossy hair. She doesn't seem to mind.

  "I'm popping over to Kendra's for lunch."

  "Sure, sweetie. Would you like some cereal before you go?" I offer her my bowl, but she shakes her head.

  "I'm in a hurry, Mum."

  Jamie winks at me. "Which is understandable. On Sundays, the shops are only open until five. That's a mere total of six hours to shop."

  Sam punches his shoulder and bolts out the door again.

  "I don't know how you do it," I say. "She would've cut my head off."

  "You're too scared of her. Children can smell fear from a mile." Jamie pours us another cup of coffee and turns to face me, a smile crossing his lips. He makes me uncomfortable. I feel a strong need to avert my gaze, move my hands, shuffle in my seat, do something so long I don't have to sink into his blue eyes.

  "I've got to go," he says, his gaze still fixed on me.

  "Thanks for staying over." My voice sounds low and insecure.

  He reaches for me as though to touch my arm, then stops. "I can pop over again tonight if you want me to."

  I shake my head. "Once is enough. I don't want to pester you. You've already done too much."

  "Are you kidding? I want this job. It comes with a lot of perks."

  What's that supposed to mean? I raise my brows. "Such as?"

  "Breakfast, silly. You make delicious, thick, fluffy pancakes to die for—or so I've heard. If there's anything I can do to help, just call me." He stands and hesitates again. I get up too but look away because I won't encourage him.

  At the door, our eyes lock and for a moment his gaze brushes my lips. My breath catches in my throat. Before I decide whether he's going to kiss me or not, he turns on his heels and leaves, mumbling something that sounds like, "See you."

  "Thanks," I say, but he's already started the engine and pulls out of the driveway without so much as a glance back.

  I really can't figure him out. The more I try, the more I fail, so I just push him to the back of my mind and do what I've been planning to do all night. The breakfast dishes can wait until I get back. I grab my purse and hop into my own vehicle, then drive to a large shopping center a few miles away because I know there's a shop that sells locks and security cameras.

  Chapter 10

  From inside, the shop seems small with little variety, but that doesn't deter me. A middle-aged man clad in the usual black pants and white shirt of a sales assistant stands at the counter. As soon I enter he approaches me.

  "Hi, I'm looking for somethi
ng to turn my castle into a fortress. Any ideas?" I say.

  He flinches, probably taken aback by my enthusiasm. After staying up all night and pondering over options, my eagerness is understandable.

  "What about kicking him out and changing the locks?" he asks.

  I laugh. "Did that right after the divorce."

  His eyes twinkle. "We don't sell a moat, alligators or an army of knights, but we might have another helpful thing or two."

  "That's okay, I'm talking more this century anyway."

  "I can make your house more secure than Buckingham Palace or the Pentagon."

  "Now you're speaking my language." I start to wriggle my hands because I can't wait to hear what he has to offer. "There's one front, one backdoor and three windows. I need this sorted out today."

  He hesitates, his eyes glinting at the prospect of making money. "We can get you whatever you need today, and then someone will pop over on Tuesday to install it."

  "Not good enough." I inch closer whispering, "I'm being stalked. This person's even set up a website with photos of me. If I don't get my house secured today you might see my picture splashed all over the papers tomorrow."

  His eyes pop wide open. "Have you been to the police?"

  I snort. "Aren't you the comedian? Don't you read the papers? You know they won't do a thing."

  "But they're professionals. I bet they won't even let anyone cross the street to your house without raising alert and sending in a special security team."

  "I doubt that," I say. "But they'll make sure no one crosses the yellow tape on their crime scene once I'm dead."

  His arm almost brushing mine, the shop assistant inches even closer as though we're best chums and chatting about some Hollywood star. "Do you have any idea who it could be?"

  I'm beginning to think he's more interested in the gossipy factor of the situation than in my safety. "The postman's been ringing a few times too many." I smirk. "Actually, I'm clueless, which makes this even harder because I've no idea what he'll do next or when he'll strike."

 
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