My sister, Gwen Donaldson and I have written two holiday/comedy/romance novels together. The first, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, came out in 2017 and the second, Single Bells, was published in November this year.
Gwen married a couple of years after high school and spent the first part of her working life as a hairstylist in Edmonton. After that marriage ended she moved to Toronto with her second husband where she took a Travel Counselling Course through the Canadian Tourism College. She began working for the school and became National Manager of Human Resources for nine campuses across Canada. She divorced in Toronto and moved with Head Office to Vancouver where she eventually did a managers buyout with another manager. Gwen married again. She and her business partner renamed the school, the Canadian Tourism College. They built it up and had students register from all over the world. Gwen's marriage ended and when she and her partner sold the college after thirty-two year, Gwen began to spend her time travelling and with family and friends.
I married right out of high school and had two children. My first marriage ended after eight years and I remarried two years later. Together my present husband and I began a blended family of five children (One has since past away) and have been married for over forty years. We now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Gwen and I approach our writing together from different perspectives. She has led an exciting dating life and has met a great many wonderful and not so wonderful men through dating sites. While I, on the other hand, have only met two men with any amorous inclinations. So we say that Gwen is the one who had done the romantic research for our novels and I am the one who has turned that research into a manuscript.
Our first novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas is about Stacy Martin who's friends decide she must go on at least twelve dates and find a boyfriend by Christmas Eve. They prepay for three sites so she can join them.
Our latest novel, Single Bells, and is about sisters Simone and Serena Bell. Simone's marriage is just breaking up while Serena is still looking for the right man. It is available right now in e-book or print book in time for Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers.
Here are the first two chapters.
Joan Donaldson-Yarmey and Gwen Donaldson
Copyright 2023 by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey and Gwen Donaldson
Cover art by Pandora Designs
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
To Bob G. A Very Dear Friend
Simone Bell-Watson looked up as Raymond Webster of the Webster Private Detective Agency entered her office. He walked up to her desk and set a brown manila envelope on it. The envelope had her first name printed in capital letters on the front. Raymond then went to the coffee corner and put a pod of coffee in the top of the machine and closed the lid. He pushed the button to start it.
Simone looked down at the envelope in front of her. Did she want to open it? She’d hired Raymond Webster three weeks ago to follow her husband, Griffin. Six months ago Griffin had claimed to have made new friends and began spending time with them going to hockey games, bars, or just having coffee. But he was never able to describe the games they went to and he’d never brought his new friends to the house.
“Would you like me to summarize my report or do you want to read it?” Raymond asked as he carried his paper cup of coffee to the chair in front of her desk. He was in his early fifties with salt and pepper hair worn in a type of crew cut that was three centimetres long at the top and tapered on the sides. He had on blue jeans and a black leather jacket, which seemed to be the typical outfit of private detectives on television.
Instead of answering, Simone turned the envelope over and lifted the flap. She reached in and pulled out three sheets of paper and two large, coloured photographs. She spread them out on her desk and gasped in shock. She stared at the pictures for a long time before finally picking them up, one in each hand. The first was typical of the type you saw on television detective shows where the spouse is kissing another person in front of a motel door. The other one was Griffin and a man climbing out of the back seat of a car half dressed. Both were laughing. It was at night and looked like they were in a deserted parking lot.
“That was taken in Stanley Park. I had followed the man there and used a Nikon night vision camera.”
Simone blinked back the tears. It was true. Griffin was having an affair, something she’d suspected while at the same time not really believing he would do that to her, to their marriage. What she hadn’t imagined or expected was that it would be with another man.
“As you know, it has taken me a long time to finally get these pictures,” Raymond said. “He must have been suspicious that someone was watching him because whenever I tried to follow him he would make quick turns and drive through different neighbourhoods never stopping anywhere. It was really impossible for me to keep up with him and still not be noticed. I lost him many times. So I tried a different tactic.”
Raymond took a sip of his coffee. “I began watching the women at his work place but nothing seemed to be going on there. Then I sat and watched the women in your neighbourhood. Again, nothing.” He paused. “I finally decided to watch the men.”
Simone studied the pictures. She didn’t recognize the man.
“This one always seemed to leave his house at the same time as your husband. So I followed him. He wasn’t as wary as your husband and drove straight to the park that night.”
Simone set the photographs down and picked up the report. It gave an itemized account of what Raymond had done each evening that he had followed Griffin or the days he had watched Griffin’s work place. She read them through, remembering the excuses Griffin had given for leaving the house.
“I need some cigarettes and beer.”
“I’m meeting my friends at a bar for some drinks.”
At the bottom of the third page was the total amount she owed.
Simone took a deep breath. “Would you like a cheque or an e-transfer?”
“E-transfer is fine.”
Raymond gave her his email address and she went on her cell phone and made the payment.
“If you ever need me again, just give me a call.” Raymond set his cup on her desk and left the room.
Simone stared down at the pictures. She and Griffin had been married three years and, until six months ago, she had thought it was a good marriage. Then he had made new friends and began to change. He shaved before going out and he talked about getting hair transplants for his thinning crown. She had recognized those changes as signs that he may have someone new in his life, someone he wanted to impress. And she’d just been proven right.
She didn’t know why she was more stunned Griffin was having an affair with a man than she might have been if he’d been seeing a woman. It wasn’t such an uncommon occurrence anymore. There were even shows about it, shows like Frankie and Grace starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston, and Martin Sheen. They had been two couples for years and then the men finally admitted that they had fallen in love. The women had taken it hard and then tried to get on with their lives. With her blonde hair, medium height, and blue eyes she wasn’t as sophisticated as Jane Fonda’s character or as off the wall as Lilly Tomlin’s but she may have to watch old episodes of the show to see how they worked their way to their new normal.
Well, it was time to put her back-up plan to work for, in spite of her hopes, deep in her mind she’d known what the result would be—Griffin was seeing someone else. And she had prepared for that.
Simone picked up her phone and dialed a number. “This is Simone Bell-Watson. I’d like to take that storage unit we discussed and I will be bringing my furniture in this afternoon.”
While waiting for the person on the other end to agree, Simone decided she would have to get busy and change the name on her important papers back to Bell.
“We’re open until six this evening.”
“Thank you.” Simone hung up and dialed another number. “I’m Simone Bell-Watson. I phoned last week about possibly needing your services to move my furniture.”
“Yes, I remember you,” the woman on the other end said.
“I’d like your men and truck to be at my place at one o’clock this afternoon.”
“Just a minute while I check our schedule.”
Simone stared at the wall while she waited. She wasn’t sure what was harder to take, losing a husband to a heart attack at the age of thirty-seven or having a husband cheat on her. Both meant a loss of a marriage, of a lifestyle, and of a planned future with a man. She and her first husband, Lucas, had met when she was nineteen and had dated for two years before marrying. That had lasted until his death seven years later. It had taken her two years before she began dating again and had met Griffin. For a second time she’d fallen in love and looked forward to a long marriage.
“I can arrange for a crew to meet you at one o’clock.”
Simone was startled out of her reverie and brought back to the present. “Thank you.”
After Simone had given her address, she made one more phone call. This one she dreaded but it was necessary for, while she’d made plans for moving out if necessary, she’d left this one until the last possible moment.
“Hello, Simone,” a woman’s voice said.
“Hi, Mom. I’ll get right to the point. I need a place to stay for a while.”
“So, you’re finally leaving that ne’er-do-well.”
“Ne’er do well? Why do you keep using those old words?” Her mother, Patricia Reed-Bell, was a very successful, historical romance writer who liked to add little-used and archaic words to her speech. She had just turned seventy and had been a widow since the death of Simone’s father, Craig, almost two years ago.
“Because they have a lot more flair and elegance than today’s words,” Patricia said. “Lazy and shiftless just doesn’t express the same righteous indignation. Although, Griffin was certainly lazy and shiftless. So what did he do that finally made you to come to your senses?”
Simone thought about lying and saying that she’d been the one having an affair and decided to leave him, but she knew the truth would come out. After all, she couldn’t tell that to her and Griffin’s friends. She wondered if some of them already suspected he’d been screwing around on her. She knew people automatically suspected an affair if they saw a married man or woman out with someone of the opposite sex. Would her friends have thought an affair if they saw Griffin out with a man? She knew she wouldn’t if she’d seen one of their husbands with another man. She’d have thought it was a couple of buddies having a drink.
“Griffin is seeing someone.” She couldn’t bring herself to tell the whole truth just yet.
There was quiet on the other end. “I’m sorry to hear that,” Patricia finally said.
“I have to go and pack my things.” Simone didn’t want to talk about how she had found out right now.
“I’ll have Lauren put one more plate on the table for dinner.”
Lauren Huckley had been hired part-time by Patricia to look after Craig when he’d had his first stroke three years ago. When Craig died from a second stroke Lauren had continued to come in three days a week to clean and cook. But Patricia enjoyed her company, so last July had hired her full time and Lauren had moved into the house. She didn’t have a car and used Patricia’s whenever they went out or she needed to go shopping.
“I’m not sure what time I’ll get there.”
“We’ll keep it warm for you.”
Simone hung up and sat looking at the pictures. She wasn’t sure if she was angrier at being such a fool, or more hurt that he had lied to her, or more embarrassed that she’d had to hire a private investigator. She’d been in love with Griffin since their second date, but she’d also known that he wasn’t ready to settle down. While they dated she continued with the studies she’d started after Lucas died and had received her Bachelor’s degree in English literature. After hearing for years how her mother’s literary agent had worked hard to find the right publishing house for her manuscripts and had gotten her many lucrative deals, Simone had decided she wanted to become a literary agent. There weren’t any requirements such as training, exams, or certifications to become an agent but she knew she had to gain experience. She worked as an assistant at a publishing company to learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry. She found that it took hard work and determination to be an agent but the most important thing she learned was the art of negotiation. After two years she started her own agency.
She began by working out of her home using the inheritance money she’d received from her grandmother to live on. She built up a stable of clients and found publishers to work with. Finally, last year she’d rented an office, put Bell Literary Agency on the door, and hired two agents.
Just when Simone was about to pop the question herself, Griffin finally asked her to marry him. At the time, she hadn’t been sure if that was because he wanted to get married or because he was tired of her hanging around waiting for the question to be asked. She had even thought it might have been because her company was growing and she was earning good money. Now, she wondered if it was because he hadn’t been able to admit his sexual preference and had wanted to hide in their marriage.
She’d thought he was a good husband, although not very ambitious. He’d been working in a warehouse when they met and he was still doing the exact same job now. They seldom argued and while they also seldom hugged or kissed and the sex had been sparse, she was happy in their marriage. Looking back now, she realized they were more like housemates instead of lovers. But she’d thought that in spite of their lack of lovemaking he was at least faithful. Now that had proven to be false. And being unfaithful was a deal breaker for her whether it was with a woman or a man.
Simone wiped a tear from her eye. Her marriage was over and nothing would change that. She was closing in on forty and alone again. Probably would be for the rest of her life.
Rather than phone her younger sister, Simone sent a text telling Serena that she was leaving Griffin and would be transferring her things out of the condo and into storage and moving in with their mother. Then she shut off her phone. She didn’t need to go through the whole explanation right now.
Simone picked up the envelope, stood, and went around her desk. She took her coat off the coat rack and put it on. She opened the door to the outer office where her secretary, Grace, was typing on her keyboard.
It was the first week of December and the room had a decorated Christmas tree in one corner and lights around the outer door. Holiday music played softly through the open door of the office across hers which was shared by her two agents. She could see Jilly on the phone and Ramona reading on her computer screen through the doorway.
“I’ll be gone for the rest of the day.” Simone told Grace.
“But you have a client coming in to discuss his new manuscript.” Grace was dressed in jeans and a red sweater with a reindeer brooch on the shoulder. There were matching reindeer earrings in her ears. She’d been dressing in red or green outfits since December first.
“Give him my apologies and reschedule for tomorrow or the next day, which ever suits him,” Simone said. She’d worked hard to grow her literary agency and always tried to be available for her clients. But what she had to do was more important. And she had to work fast at packing up her clothes and dishes and bedding and everything else in the condo. Griffin got off work at five. “And I will have my phone off until tomorrow, so just leave me a message.”
Simone went over to the photocopier to make two copies of each of the pictures Raymond Webster had given her. She felt Grace watching her since photocopying was part of her job, but these pictures were something Simone didn’t want to share with everyone. She put the original and copies in the envelope and hurried down to her bright red Mercedes car in the underground parkade. She drove out onto the street. It was half snowing/half raining, which wasn’t unusual for Vancouver this time of year. If she wasn’t so hurt and angry the snow might have put her in the Christmas spirit.
Simone drove to the condo she and Griffin shared. It was on the second floor of the building and overlooked the city and the mountains in the distance. She loved the view and would miss it. They wouldn’t have any trouble selling it unless Griffin wanted to buy her out. She snorted at the idea. In their three years of marriage Griffin hadn’t looked for a better paying job. She wasn’t sure if that was because he really liked his work or because he didn’t care about growing and expanding his prospects. The monthly condo payments and fees, groceries, and utilities were paid out of their joint account but her deposits were larger than his. And he had only come up with one-third of the condo down payment. She had kept the paperwork to prove it.
* * *
Serena Bell set down the bill of lading for the shipment of beer that had been delivered to her pub that morning on her desk and looked at the text from her sister. She read it twice before actually believing it. Then she nodded in satisfaction. Simone had finally smartened up and was leaving Griffin. Serena had never liked the man, finding him lazy and basically willing to live off his wife.
Serena decided to go to Simone’s condo. She figured there was no use wasting this opportunity to help get her sister away from that man. Also, it would be a chance to find out what had happened that would cause her to leave the man she had waited so long to marry. It must have been something drastic to cause Simone to decide to move in with their mother.
She finished up some paperwork then picked up her purse and keys and hurried out into the main lounge area. She’d owned this pub for just over a year and she still got a thrill to look around and realize it belonged to her. She’d spent most of her twenties working as a salesperson in a department store, or a server in a restaurant or, after getting her mixology license, a bartender in a bar or pub. These jobs lasted long enough for her to save some money and then she travelled throughout Canada and the United States for as long as the money lasted. While working in the bars she’d enjoyed mixing drinks for her customers and had learned a few easy, flair techniques, like the basic flip, ice throwing, and the palm pivot. They weren’t as easy as they looked but she’d perfected them through much practice.
Then two years ago she’d decided it was time to grow up so she’d bought the original bar here in Richmond using the inheritance she, Simone, and four other grandchildren had received from their grandmother. At the same time, she’d put a down payment on one of the condos above it.
But she knew that owning a bar wasn’t for her. She didn’t like the racket of the music and loud conversation or having to deal with the drunks or put up with the groping hands of some of the customers.
When she started looking for some place to buy she’d learned that the difference between a pub and a bar was that bars are all about selling alcohol. They served beer, a wide selection of cocktails, and not much in the way of food, usually snacks or appetizers. Bars targeted a specific market. That’s why there were many different types like, sports bars, ladies bars, and gay bars.
Pubs were half way between a bar and a restaurant. They didn’t target an audience; they were open to anyone and everyone. They served beer, wine, and cider and had a full menu of food from breakfast to desserts. Because of the wide variety of food and little liquor, minors were allowed in as long as accompanied by an adult.
So she’d made some changes to the original business. She renovated the kitchen to increase efficiency and flow, expanded the menu to include more choices, and updated the front of the house, as the area where she and her staff interacted with customers was called. She knew that first impressions were very important, so she enlarged the entranceway and added a comfortable couch for waiting customers or ones who had come to pick up an order to sit on. She also placed menus on a small shelf in the corner so they had something to read while waiting.
She made sure the hostess station was visible from the door, as well as from the rest of the room. That way anyone of the staff could greet the customers as soon as they entered. She kept the menus on the podium, handy for the server to pick up while leading the customers to a table or booth.
Most importantly, she changed the name to the B&B Pub. The name was a conversation starter with the customers and always got a laugh when she explained its origin. In school she and Simone had called themselves the BB sisters or the BB Bells: BB standing for Brains and Brawn for Simone because she’d been smart and a tom boy. Serena was Brains and Beauty. She made high grades in her classes and had also been beautiful, winning two minor beauty pageants in her teens. Since then, she’d put on a little weight and cut her long, blonde hair short. She was two years younger than Simone and just an inch shorter.
Lenny Newman, her beverage server/waiter, was behind the counter. She walked up to him.
“I’ll be gone for the rest of the day.”
“Okay, Boss,” Lenny smiled. “I’ll take care of everything.”
“Thank you. Give me a call if anything comes up.”
Serena walked out the front of the B&B Pub and around the corner to the pub parking lot. Past that, at the back of the building, was her metallic blue Prius in the condo parking lot. Traffic was light and it took only half hour to get to her sister’s place in Vancouver. There was a large van parked in the front of the building doors and three men were unloading flattened boxes when she arrived. Serena had a key to the building and Simone’s condo.
“Where are you men going?”
“We’re moving the furniture of a Simone Bell-Watson out of her condo.”
She nodded and opened the doors for them. She led them up to the fourth floor condo.
“Serena. What are you doing here?” Simone exclaimed when Serena walked in.
“I’ve come to help you.”
“This could take a while. Aren’t you supposed to meet Jerry for dinner tonight?”
Serena waved her hand in dismissal. She had found Jerry online and after six weeks of texting, they had met in person a month ago. Since then she’d seen him twice and the last time hadn’t gone well. Jerry had questioned her about her religion and how important it was to her. Once she’d told him she was a Protestant but didn’t go to church regularly his texts had slowed. “He called me yesterday and said he had decided to go to Calgary to see his family for Hanukah. I have all day and evening to help you so tell me what to do.”
The three men began opening up the folded boxes and taping the bottoms.
“You can pack the dishes I’ve set on the counter into those boxes, while I show the men what furniture I’m taking with me.”
Serena took off her coat and threw it on a kitchen chair. The kitchen, dining room, and living room was all one open area. Down a short hallway were the two bedrooms and a bathroom. Off the living room was a deck where Serena and Simone had spent many an evening drinking wine, talking, and laughing. Serena was going to miss visits with her sister and the view of the city and mountains.
The condo and deck were adorned with Simone’s usual abundance of Christmas decorations, although she hadn’t put up her tree. Serena knew that Griffin disliked the Christmas fuss and advertising and gift giving, stating that it was only to line the rich people’s pockets. He particularly disliked all the decorations Simone put up in their apartment. Serena wondered if Griffin had finally had enough of the Christmas season.
On the counter sat stacks of plates, dessert plates, bowls, and rows of glasses and coffee cups. Serena picked up one of the packing papers and set it on the bottom of a box then set a plate on top. She kept layering the plates, then did the pie plates and bowls. She set the tray of cutlery and other cooking utensils on the bottom of another box and wrapped the glasses and coffee cups in the papers and laid them on top.
While Serena was filling the boxes, the men carried the couch, love seat, ottoman, and end tables out to the van. One of the men smiled at her when he went by. He was the youngest and the tallest of the three and had dark hair shaved on the sides and curly on top, blue eyes, and high cheekbones. She guessed his age to be in the mid-thirties, while the other two were in their forties. He had taken off his jacket and she could see the muscles bulging under his black t-shirt. She returned the smile, feeling a warming sensation in her stomach.
The men hauled the bed, dressers, and night stands from the master bedroom through the living room and out the door. Serena paused and watched them go by. Actually, all of the men were in good shape but the two older men were intent on doing their job. The younger one caught her eye again and winked.
Simone carried plastic garbage bags out of her bedroom and set them against the wall by the door. “These are my clothes and they will go in the back of my car when we leave,” she told Serena and the men.
“Where is your furniture going?” Serena asked Simone as she went to the kitchen sink and ran some water into a glass.
“I’ve rented a storage unit and I’m going to put them there until I figure out where I’m going next.”
Serena felt sorry for her sister. Simone had lost one husband to a heart attack and now was losing another to divorce. Serena had never been lucky enough, if lucky was the right word, to find a man she wanted to settle down with. She’d had many lovers and affairs but they had only been a ‘passing fancy’ as her mother called them.
Serena knew now wasn’t the time to ask Simone what had happened between her and Griffin. It looked as if Simone was in a hurry to get everything out of the condo before Griffin came home from work. Serena noticed that Simone was leaving all the furniture in the guest bedroom. She knew that the bed and dresser in it were the only furniture that Griffin had brought into their marriage. The rest had belonged to Simone.
As Serena boxed up cooking and baking ware, the man in the black t-shirt stopped at the counter and slid a piece of paper with his name, Doug, and phone number on it towards her. “Call me,” he said then hurried to catch up with the other men.
“Another man falling under your spell?” Simone asked as she took down the Christmas decorations.
Serena laughed. Although they called themselves the BB Bell sisters, their friends had also given them nicknames: Simone with her quick smile, had been known as Tinker Bell because she liked to tinker around on cars with their father. They’d taken an old clunker that she bought with the money she’d saved from her babysitting and part-time job and had fixed it up and painted it. Simone had driven her friends to school football games and to parties in it.
Serena was called Hells Bells by her friends because she was always getting into trouble. There hadn’t been a week go by that she wasn’t called into the principal’s office for some prank she pulled. And because of her beauty she’d been popular with the boys. They would line up in school and beg her for a date causing blockades in the hallways. That usually got her a trip to the principal’s office even though she claimed it wasn’t her fault. Sometimes, when her sister was gone, Serena would sneak Simone’s keys and take her friends for a joy ride. They always pooled their money afterwards and put gas in the tank so Simone wouldn’t notice.
“He is kind of cute,” Serena said, putting the paper in her purse.
“What about Jerry?” Simone carefully placed the decorations in two boxes.
“I haven’t seen him enough to consider it serious. I’m not even sure if we’re even dating.” She decided to change subjects. She held up the decorations she’d been taking down. “Are you putting those in storage also?” Their mother decorated her house but not as much as Simone was used to.
“I’m taking these to Mom’s. Her house needs more than what she puts up.
Serena smiled. Their mother was in for a surprise this holiday season.
“Do you want to come for dinner at Mom’s?”
“Oh, it’s pretty late to be showing up unexpectedly.”
“I’ll text her and let her know you’ll be joining us. Lauren always makes extra in case she or Mom wants a snack later so I’m sure there’s enough food for one more.”
* * *
Simone was tired. Her furniture was in her storage unit and she and Serena had driven to their mother’s house on Oak Street. They’d unloaded bags of clothes and carried them up to her old bedroom on the second floor. Her boxes of decorations had gone in the basement. Lauren had kept the food she’d prepared warm and she now set it on the table.
“You hired a gumshoe?” Serena asked as she, Simone, Lauren and their mother sat down for their dinner in Patricia’s dining room. The room was large with a glass topped table that sat up to eight people and white straight-backed leather chairs. Along one wall was an antique sideboard that had belonged to Patricia’s grandmother and above it hung a large rectangle mirror. An archway led into the kitchen and another one on the wall opposite the sideboard let into the living room. The fourth wall had a double patio door that opened onto a deck overlooking the garden area.
“They don’t call themselves gumshoes, I’ve been informed,” Simone said as she dished up some scalloped potatoes. “At one time that cliché probably fit because the private detectives wore street shoes with thick, rubber soles so they could walk softly. Now they wear all types of footwear and have more sophisticated ways of tracking someone.”
“So what all did the detective do? How did he find out Griffin was cheating?”
Simone grimaced at the word cheating but she had decided to answer all their questions and get it over with. “Raymond Webster of the Webster Private Detective Agency tried to follow him, but he kept evading him. Finally Mr. Webster watched the women where Griffin worked and in our neighbourhood. When nothing developed there he started looking at the men. He noticed that one of our neighbours left his house around the same time that Griffin left ours. He followed him and found them together.”
Simone took a drink of her wine and didn’t watch them as the news sunk in.
“Oh,” Patricia said.
“Really?” was Serena’s reaction. “For sure? And he got pictures?”
Lauren said nothing.
Simone nodded in answer to Serena’s question. Before she’d left the condo, she’d spread the photographs on the counter and left them for Griffin. That was all the explanation he would get from her. It should be all the explanation he needed.
“And you never suspected he was gay?” Serena asked.
“Really?” Serena and Patricia exchanged glances.
“Why? Did you?” Simone stared from her sister to her mother.
“Well,” Patricia said slowly. “We did wonder.”
“Why?” Simone asked again. “What did he do?”
“Oh, it was nothing overt,” Serena said. “Just some of his mannerism, like the way he occasionally waved his hand or struck a pose. Until today, though, if I’d been asked if I truly thought he was gay. I would have said no.”
Simone couldn’t believe that she had missed the signs. Had she been so much in love with him that she’d refused to acknowledge them? Had she thought her love would keep him at her side?
“Are you going to take some time off?” Patricia asked.
Simone was jerked from her thoughts. “No time off. I’ll be back in the office tomorrow, right after I see a lawyer and a real estate agent.”
“Good for you, Dear. No use dwelling on times of yore. And you can stay here as long as you need.”
“Thank you, Mom.” She smiled at her mother.
Patricia was a small, pretty woman with dark hair. She stood barely five foot two inches and had only reached their father’s chest when standing beside him. Simone and Serena had taken after Craig in height and with their blonde hair.
Simone looked at Lauren wondering why she was so quiet. Usually she kept them laughing by telling them about the antics she and their mother had gotten into since their last visit. Maybe she was quiet because of the reason Simone was moving in. Maybe she thought it was too sombre an occasion for levity.
“Anything new happen since the last time we saw you two?” Simone asked looking from her mother to Lauren.
“We went to a Christmas craft sale and bought some candles and scented soap,” Lauren said. She was medium height with long brown hair that she kept in a ponytail or braids. She was in her mid-forties and had been married once. Her parents were still alive and she had one sister.
Patricia nodded. “And we also went shopping for gifts.” She added with a smile.
“Oh!” Serena exclaimed bouncing up and down in her chair. “What did you buy us? What did you buy us?”
Simone remembered the two of them pestering their parents with that same question every year when they were children.
“Nothing for either of you,” Patricia said, a sparkle in her eye. “You’re both on the naughty list.”
Simone laughed for the first time that day. That had also been her mother’s reaction to their question every year.
“Oh,” Serena pouted then she brightened. “Christmas isn’t here yet. I have plenty of time to find out. And speaking of Christmas, it’s time to get in the spirit. I’m going to see the lights at the VanDusen Gardens one evening next week. Anyone want to join me?”
“I haven’t been there since Mom and Dad took us as kids,” Simone said. “I’ll go with you.” She wanted to start doing some Christmas activities. The news about Griffin had put a damper on her mood but she didn’t want to let it spoil the season. She knew there was no way they would ever get back together. If Griffin had been seeing a woman, he could say he’d made a mistake and wanted another chance. But he couldn’t change his sexual orientation. She knew she would have sad days, but she also knew it was definitely over.
“Me, too,” Patricia said.
They all looked at Lauren. “I’ll go, too,” she smiled.
The next morning, Simone lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Her room hadn’t changed much from when she moved out over fifteen years ago. The walls were the same light mauve that she’d insisted she wanted when her father decided it was time to paint them. The double bed had been her parents until they’d purchased a queen-sized one. They had bought her a new flowered quilt with matching shams to go on it which were still ,on the bed. Her old desk was under the window and the white dressers were still in place, one in the corner and the other one, with a mirror, along the wall opposite the walk-in closet. The door to the ensuite was to the right of the closet. The familiarity of the room had been a comfort last night when she couldn’t sleep.
Simone picked up her phone and looked at the blank screen. It had been a tough night. As much as she was angry at Griffin and hurt at his betrayal, she still was surprised that her love for him hadn’t diminished much. She’d missed having him beside her in bed and had thought about their vacations to exotic locations where they’d hiked through rainforests, kayaked down rivers, and swam with dolphins. They’d rented a catamaran for two summers with friends and gone sailing on the ocean. In the winters, they’d leased a chalet in Whistler with those same friends and gone downhill skiing most weekends. She wondered if Griffin had let those friends know yet. Or was it up to her?
Simone also wondered how Griffin had slept in their condo alone. Had he thought about all the house hunting they had done together when looking for a place to buy? They’d gone to open houses, met with real estate agents, and even checked for private sales. It had been fun walking through houses, condos, and townhouses, petting cats and talking with dogs that were confined in their kennels. They discussed the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the layout of the kitchen, dining, and living rooms, the balconies or decks, and if they wanted the extra work of a yard. When they finally signed the papers on their condo, they went out for dinner and celebrated being home owners.
Did sleeping alone in the empty condo bring back any of those memories for him or had he spent the night thinking about his boyfriend? Maybe he’d even invited him over. Making love in a bed would be so much easier and more romantic than in the back seat of a vehicle.
She wondered if he was thinking about their life together. She doubted it; after all, he’d been seeing someone else for months now and had time to deal with the fact that their marriage would soon be over. She was just now discovering it was ending and had to deal with the newness of that.
She pressed the button to turn her cell back on. There was a voicemail from Grace that the writer she had cancelled yesterday would be in this afternoon at two o’clock and a text from her friend, Melanie, wondering if they were still on for drinks this evening.
And there were four phone messages and eleven texts from Griffin.
Simone hesitated then pressed the text icon to see what he’d written.
How did you find out?
I don’t think it’s right that you took all the furniture.
Where are you staying? With your mother? Your sister?
Simone, I’m sorry. I guess I should have told you.
And then various versions of those four. Simone deleted the voicemails. She didn’t need to listen to his voice repeating the same messages. She phoned her office and left Grace a message confirming she’d be there for her two o’clock appointment. She texted Melanie and asked if they could reschedule for some time next week before she shut her phone off again.
After she’d showered and dressed, Simone went downstairs to the kitchen. She smelled coffee brewing and smiled. She needed her coffee this morning. Her mother sat at the table with a full cup and empty plate in front of her.
“Good morning, Simone,” Lauren said from the stove. “We’re having pancakes this morning. How many would you like?”
“I’ll have two.” Simone poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down opposite her mother.
“How did you sleep?” Patricia asked.
“Good,” Simone lied.
“Must be a load off your shoulders to be rid of him.”
Simone hid her grimace behind her coffee cup. Their mother had always spoken her mind but it seemed as she grew older she didn’t hold much back.
“What made you suspect something was going on?”
Simone didn’t want to get into the whole story. “He began to change, buying new clothes, shaving before going out to meet his friends, spending more time out in the evenings.”
“Yes, those are the classic signs. I’ve written about them enough in my books.”
“Are you working on a new one?” Simone smiled her thanks at Lauren as she set a plate with two pancakes in front of her.
“Just finishing the third book of my Regency romance trilogy.”
Patricia had been writing as long as Simone could remember. Simone could barely picture the small, two bedroom house they’d first lived in. Patricia was a stay-at-home mom and wanted to be a writer. She would set a clock and tell Simone and Serena that she would be writing for the next half hour and they were supposed to be quiet. They’d play in the living room and as soon as the alarm went off they’d hurry into her parents’ bedroom where her mother had set up a small table and computer in one corner. She would hug each of them and then they’d all go back to the living room and play games or have a snack. If the weather was nice they went for a walk to the playground. When they returned Patricia would set the alarm clock and they’d wait until the alarm sounded. Patricia tried to write three or four times a day during the week and half a day on Saturday while their father took them shopping or on some excursion.
And it all paid off. Patricia found an agent for her first book and he got her a contract with a large publishing company. It was an instant success and after three books, Patricia and Craig bought this two storey house with basement on Oak Street. It had a large kitchen, living room, dining room, full bath, and library on the main floor and four bedrooms, all with their own ensuites, on the top floor. There was an extra bedroom, bathroom, family room, and games room in the basement.
The writing routine changed when Simone and Serena started school. Their mother had taken over the library as her office and would write all day. She tried to have finished her daily quota of words before they got home. But sometimes they would walk in the house and see the office door closed. They were never allowed in her office and knew not to disturb her. They would find the snack she had made them and eat it while they waited for her to appear. Sometimes, it would be within a few minutes, occasionally, it would be after their father got home. The three of them would then make dinner and usually their mother would come out in time to eat with them.
“What do you have planned next?” Simone asked her mother.
“Well, I think I’m getting to old to write about young lovers, so I might try something different.”
“You told me you’re going to try a cozy mystery,” Lauren said. “You said you already have ideas for your first two.”
“Yes, I might do that. Of course I would write under a pseudonym in case they aren’t very popular.”
“Well, that’s great,” Simone said. “Your doctor said that writing is good for your mental health as you grow older. It keeps your mind active and staves off dementia.”
Simone stood and put her plate in the dishwasher. “I have a lot to do today.” She bent and kissed her mother. “I’ll see you both this evening.”
On her way to the bank, Simone phoned her lawyer at Cotes and Cotes to make an appointment. Luckily, Anna Cotes had a cancellation and Simone could get in to see her in an hour. It had been too late after putting her furniture in storage yesterday to go to the bank, so she wanted to be there when it opened this morning. She had her own account for her business plus a joint account with Griffin. They had a withdrawal limit of one thousand dollars a day, so she knew Griffin hadn’t been able to remove much since last evening.
She was surprised and sadden at how her trust in Griffin had vanished since finding out he’d been cheating on her. Now she didn’t know what else to expect from him and wanted to make sure she got her share of their joint account.
The manager was just unlocking the door when she walked up. She smiled and went over to a teller and swiped her card.
“I would like to transfer half of the amount from this joint account into my other account.” Simone showed her the business card and swiped it.
Simone had deposited most of the money over their marriage, but she was going to be fair. After all, each of them was entitled to half of everything and she wasn’t going to squabble over who contributed what. She wanted this divorce to go through as quick as possible.
She signed the paper and picked up both cards. Number one on her list done.
Simone climbed back in her car and as she was pulling away, she saw Griffin enter the bank. A little too slow, Buddy.
Next, she drove to her lawyer’s office and laid the photographs out on her desk. “I’d like to start divorce proceedings against my husband.”
Anna Cotes looked at the pictures. “I guess there’s no hope at reconciliation.”
“Do you think he will contest the divorce?”
“I doubt it. These pictures show he isn’t interested in being married to me. I’ve already taken the furniture that I brought into the marriage and put it in storage. I went to the bank and removed half of the money in our joint account. I’m going to a real estate agent next to start selling the condo.”
“Is his name on the condo title?”
“Then you can’t list it unless both of you sign the real estate agreement.”
Simone grimaced. She really hadn’t wanted to speak with Griffin. She’d wanted others to do the negotiations between them.
“I will file a Notice of Family Claim in the B.C. Supreme Court and gather the other forms that you will need to sign. If you both agree to end the marriage then a separation agreement will establish the terms of the divorce. I will need the name of his lawyer.”
“I don’t know if he has one yet. I guess I can find out.”
“Good. I’ll draw the papers up and when they are ready I’ll phone you to come in and sign them.”
Simone left the office. She walked slowly to her car. As much as she hated to, she had to text Griffin and asked for his lawyer’s name. She stopped in at a deli and bought a sandwich for her lunch then drove to her office.
* * *
Serena sat behind her desk adding up the previous day’s proceeds. She was happy at how well her pub was doing. Business had been steadily increasing over the past year and she was thinking of starting to have theme nights for special days like Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day, and Hallowe’en.
Right now her staff was decorating the pub for Christmas. And they were given the choice of dressing up as elves for their shifts throughout December. She, herself, had a Mrs. Clause costume which she would start wearing the last week before Christmas.
Serena’s phone pinged. It was a message from Jerry.
I can’t continue seeing you because I can’t marry anyone outside the Jewish faith. The only possible way for us to continue dating would be for you to convert to Judaism and I get the impression that you are against that.
“Marriage?” Serena said out loud in disbelief. “No one’s been talking about marriage. We barely know each other.”
She thought about texting that back to him then decided against it. Any relationship they might have had was obviously over before it even began. She would just let it go.
Serena remembered the piece of paper the mover, Doug, had given her at Simone’s condo. She’d been texting a few men from the dating sites over the past month while waiting to see what happened between her and Jerry. They’d been more like two acquaintances meeting for lunch or drinks than dates and now that nothing was going to develop with him, apparently not even marriage, she was going to start meeting the other men.
The question was, did she want to try a date the old fashioned way, meeting up with Doug before knowing anything about him? At least by texting for a while she could weed him out if she wasn’t interested. Going on a date first and then learning the man’s history, his plans for the future, and his likes and dislikes second seemed backwards. But it had been done for centuries before technology and human kind had survived and thrived.
She thought about Doug. He was attractive and obviously single, well, hopefully single. She dug in her purse for his number and sent him a text using her burner. He answered immediately and they agreed to meet tomorrow evening at the Canadian Brewhouse and Grill. She didn’t want him to know that she owned a pub just yet.
Serena finished her paperwork and made up a bank deposit. She walked out into the main room of the pub and smiled at the way it was being transformed. A large artificial tree with lights attached stood in one corner. Ethan, a bartender and one of the wait staff, was attaching large colourful balls to the limbs. Arleth and Noah, two more staff, were hanging decorations from the ceiling and Lenny was painting a winter scene on the front window.
Serena walked down the street to the bank, dropped her deposit bag in the chute, and returned to the pub. Before entering she stopped to admire the completed window scene. Since gnomes were popular he’d painted three of them, each with a tall red and green striped hat and a white beard. But instead of just the nose showing under the hat he’d added round, black eyes to each of their faces. One carried two gifts, another held a lantern, and the third had a Christmas tree. Serena smiled at the picture. The children would surely love it.
Serena entered the pub. Lunch customers had arrived and one of them had been delegated the task of helping Ethan run some garland. He was laughing as he held one end of the garland while Ethan pinned the other to the ceiling.
She smiled at the interchange. This was what she’d hoped for when she’d opened the pub. The customers considered this a relaxing, welcoming place to come to and she made sure she hired only pleasant and outgoing staff.
Serena headed back to her office. She wondered how her sister was doing and decided to send her a text.
How are you holding up?
She thought about telling Simone that Jerry had dumped her but figured it wasn’t the time and certainly nothing compared to what Simone was going through right now.
Serena went into the kitchen to see how the new head chef was fitting in. When her former head chef had moved to Vancouver Island, she’d hired Jackson Harris to replace him. Jackson had graduated from culinary school two years ago and worked in a restaurant in Vancouver as a station chef then a junior chef before answering her ad. Until she owned a pub, Serena had no idea how many different kinds of chefs there could be in a kitchen. Only high-end, fancy restaurants had an executive chef. They didn’t cook, just spent their time managing the kitchen staff, training, planning menus, and looking after the budget. In the smaller restaurants the head chef did all of that and, in some places, also cooked.
Since she did the menu and budget planning, she only needed one full-time and one part-time head chef. The head chef was in charge of the kitchen and oversaw the day-to-day activities. She also had two full-time and two part-time station chefs, one to cook the beef and pork and one to cook the chicken and fish each evening. She didn’t have a junior chef but had kitchen porters to cut up the vegetables and grate the cheese.
Like most days, the kitchen was a flurry of activity. Everyone scurried around doing their job and getting the plates filled for the wait staff to deliver to the customers. Serena observed for a while then left. No one needed her input. Jackson seemed to have everything under control.
She watched the wait staff go from table to table taking orders and delivering food. Sometimes, when the pub was full she grabbed a pad and waited the tables or delivered plates. There was no way she was going to have customers grumble about having to wait for their orders to be taken or their food to arrive.
Back in her office she found a text from Simone.
Bank done, lawyer done, but can’t do anything about selling the condo without Griffin’s signature on papers and he hasn’t gotten back to me with his lawyer’s name.
Serena had never been married but knew love and attention and gentleness could quickly change to loathing and animosity and disgust in just a matter of days when it came to divorce. She’d seen that happen to some of her friends.
I have an appointment but maybe after that.
Even though she’d just received a shipment of bottled beer yesterday Serena took her order phone with its inventory software. Many of her customers had their favourite and she didn’t want to run out, so she checked the stock every couple of days. She ordered from the large beer companies but also liked to stock local craft beer and cider. She first went to the back room and clicked on the codes on each of the boxes there then stayed out of Lenny’s way while she physically counted the bottles and cans in the cooler.
She returned to her office and planned her next order. It was almost four o’clock when her phone pinged.
I can leave now. Let’s meet at Mom’s. I’ll pick up the wine.
Serena sent a smiley face and grabbed her purse and jacket. It would be a slow drive to her mother’s place in rush hour traffic.