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TelephotoMarigold

Debated Heart

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Hmm is there something else wrong with Nicole given that this is a

Spoiler

parallel universe anything could happen to anyone

Or is it she just doesn't like Ella?

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Nicole is definitely hiding something but with her attitude, I'm not sure I really like her at the minute. It'll be somewhat interesting to see how it plays out.

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Chapter Eleven

“We don’t want to go back to the caravan,” Mike muttered glancing at his brother and sister.

“I’m sorry, but we all have to do things we don’t want.”

“Why can’t we stay?” A whiney note entered his voice.

“Because this isn’t our home, we’ve got to pack up the caravan and arrange to go home to the studio. You’ve got school remember?”

“Mum,” Mike cajoled.

“No, no discussion.”

Ella stepped back and away from her son. She caught the expressions on Gabby’s and also Toby’s faces and steeled herself against giving in to them She’d already given in more times that she could count. First in coming to the Bay itself, and then staying with Roman and his daughter Nicole, for the past week. She had been well enough to leave several days ago but had found herself agreeing to stay because the kids had wanted her too.

The kids? She scoffed. She had wanted to stay, deep down. She wanted to see what Roman was like, especially as they’d never actually lived together before and because maybe she still liked him more than a little.

Back in the day, she’d had her own tent-slash-room on the base in Afghanistan, a wooden structure with canvas over it along. Tin sheeting was around the base helping protect it from the elements; along with the necessary sandbags lining the outside to about waist height to protect it from other things such as shells or IED’s. Not that they were ever really expected inside the base’s perimeter, more just as a precaution.  On the inside, she’d finagled a metal shelving unit that she used to house everything from storage for her things to the small gas-powered stove she used to cook food and more importantly boil water to make coffee.  Then she had a picnic table, the kind that folded down with a plastic covered top. The pattern was made up of garish colours, she remembered, a turquoise, yellow, and orange checkered design. Teamed with a single chair and a wooden crate that did double duty as a spare seat or her bedside cabinet.

Which left her bed, an army cot of dubious origin that as she remembered with a blush staining her face, had collapsed under her and Roman’s combined weight the first time they’d lain on it.  Explaining that detail to her suddenly overprotective brother had made her want the ground to open up and swallow her even as she replaced her bed with another one that came from even more dubious origins.

It wasn’t so long after her brother Michael had found out she was there her tent had started to have extra features added to it, like a wood burning stove and of course a supply of wood. Then there was wood panelling he put up to add extra insulation during the oncoming winter.  She decided that it was safer never to ask where the stuff came from.

Then there was Roman, from the first moment they met there was this dramatic attraction between them. At first after learning of the connection of him being her brother’s ‘LT’ they’d tried to avoid each other and not give into those feelings. She’d never had a relationship before, sure a few boyfriends and some dating but nothing as serious as being with someone like Roman. On his part, sometimes he’d been distant, even cold on occasions until they couldn’t hold back anymore.  Even then they’d decided to try and keep the relationship secret, managing for weeks to stop the others from finding out, not just her brother but also the other members of Roman’s unit.  By then she’d been ‘adopted’ by them and treated like a sister by everyone except Roman of course.

By then their relationship had developed to the point where they’d decided to go on leave and taking a ten-day break away in a hotel in Cyprus. She remembered every moment of those ten days as though they were etched on her mind in brilliant technicolour because although by this stage they had a growing intimacy between them it wasn’t until they were in Cyprus that the relationship became a sexual one.

Her eyes moved to look at her kids and she sighed, memories could trick her into making mistakes because of their sentimentality.  She had to maintain her distance from Roman, for one thing, he was married and she wasn’t going to be the other woman in his life. That would be a huge mistake.

“I know you want to stay but this isn’t where we live and we need to get settled,” Ella tried to explain.

Gabby looked at her both of her brothers before she spoke. “I want to live with Dad,” she announced.

“Gabby!” Ella gasped.

“I do,” Gabby insisted, “I don’t want to go back to the smelly studio and I don’t want to go to the snooty school you’ve picked out with the nasty uniform.”

Ella took a step back and looked at her daughter. She couldn’t describe how much hurt Gabby had inflicted with her statement. It was hard enough sharing her with her father the past few days and watching their relationship develop.

“Fine then, you can stay here,” Ella muttered.

“Me too,” Toby added quickly.

“Yup, you too,” Ella told her son before holding her hand up as Mike stepped forward. “Unfortunately you can’t as you aren’t Roman’s biological child.”

“What?” Gabby gasped her eyes shooting to Mike’s as the enormity of what she’d unleashed began to dawn on her.

“’Fraid so, Mike is adopted by me and has to come with me,” Ella announced. “So you won’t mind only visiting each other occasionally from now on will you?”

Gabby narrowed her eyes and looked at her mother before speaking.

“Fine, if that is the way it is going to be,” she muttered and flounced out of the room.

Ella looked at her other two children and waited a heartbeat before she shook her head.  “I’m going out,” she announced and grabbed her car keys and handbag before heading out of the door.

“Now you’ve done it!”

Gabby winced at Mike’s statement before she pouted.

“We agreed we had to do everything we could to get her to stay,” she defended herself.

“I don’t think we should have done that Gabs, you hurt Mum,” Toby added.

“Look,” Gabby began.

She shook her head to clear away the sudden sheen of tears in her eyes and the clog at the back of her throat. Of course she didn’t want to split the family up and living without her mum, that was unthinkable. She never told anyone that Chris had tried to persuade her to stay in US with him during the ugly days of their divorce. She suspected that he hadn’t done it because he wanted to be her dad but more that he wanted to hurt everybody else, especially their mum.

“It’s ok,” Mike said maturely. “We’ll sort it out.”

Gabby nodded.

“I..” she moved back into the room and sat on the sofa just as the door opened and Roman strode in.

“Ok,” he began, “What happened?”

“How did he know?” Mike muttered moving to sit next to Gabby.

“Hello, he’s Nicole’s dad, he can sense when someone’s done something…” Toby muttered moving to sit next to his sister too.

“Hey, less of picking on your sister. Where is your Mum?”

“She went for a drive…” Mike said trying to sound convincing.

“Of course she did,” Roman said slowly.  He carried on walking into the kitchen and did a slow look around.  The pasta jars had been moved and there was a pot of fresh herbs on the windowsill by the sink.  It was his kitchen. His. What had happened to it.

“Mum did some shopping to replace all the food we ate,” Mike said from behind him.

“I can see. “

Roman moved over to the cupboard and opened it up. He expected it to be filled with tin food from what the kids had told him about their mother’s cooking and instead he saw only the finest cooking ingredients.

“I guess I better cook something now,” Roman declared his eyes looking at a packet of risotto rice.

“I don’t know what time Mum will be back,” Mike said and immediately bit his lip at the slip. Their Mum always told them where she was going and what she was doing and for him not to know signalled that something had happened to the other man.

“I see,” Roman said softly and closed the cupboard doors. “Do you guys want a drink?” He asked them.

“No thank you,” Mike answered and resisted the urge that had him immediately adding ‘Sir’ to that sentence.

“What about the others?” Roman asked as he moved to the kettle and put that on to boil. His new diet had him drinking a lot of green tea and he suddenly decided that he needed a coffee. Whatever had gone on between Ella and the kids was big.  He knew that Ella was eager to make a move, either back to the caravan park or even worse back to the city and her studio.

He hated the idea of her and the kids being so far away from him. He’d only just started to get to know them and he liked Ella being around.  In fact, he acknowledged he liked Ella being around too damn much for his own good.  He’d lain awake at nights thinking about her being just upstairs asleep in a double bed.  He wondered if she still did that thing where she snuggled.  He’d never really done that with anyone else, at least not all night like he used to with Ella.

“We’re fine,” Gabby called out.

Roman nodded and moved back over to the kettle and made a cup of coffee. He noticed that even the instant coffee was the finest quality and smiled to himself.  Obviously Ella was used to having money at her disposal.  For a moment he wondered cynically if that was part of the reason she was looking him up, if she needed money for the twins now that she was divorced. Moving back from the States must have been expensive.   Dismissing his negative thoughts he walked into the lounge and eased down on the sofa and picked up the remote for the tv.

“What do we want to watch?” He asked them.

“Anything,” Gabby muttered peacefully with a glance at her brothers.

“Ok, the news it is,” Roman told them a smile playing on his lips.

“Oh…” Toby muttered flushing when Roman smirked at him as he found a show they could all watch.

Chapter Twelve

Ella put the last of her bags in the car before giving the caravan a last check. Satisfied that she had everything she moved over to the large house and knocked on the door smiling as it swung open and Miles stood in front of her.

“Oh, hey,” he murmured.

“Checking out,” she held out the key to him, “I’ve stripped the beds and everything is clean.”

“Oh, er, yeah, you didn’t have to do that, but thanks. So have those kids persuaded you to stay in the Bay?”

Ella sighed, “No, not exactly.”

“Need  a coffee?”

She smiled at his question and nodded as he stood to one side to allow her to walk into the house.  Placing the caravan key on the table she glanced around the place.  Not spotless but it was certainly cleaner than the last time she’d been there.  No dirty dishes scattered about and the papers whilst still stacked up seemed to be in a much neater pile.

“I know,” he grinned over at her as he filled the kettle and put it on to boil.

“So what have the kids been saying?”

“Mike has been printing out maps that cover the route from here to his boarding school. Gabby asked me about uniform requirements for Summer Bay High and Toby has been lamenting on how he won’t make a surfing champion if you quote, ‘drag him home’.”

“I’m such a horrid terrible mother,” Ella shook her head.

“Don’t be silly, those are some incredible kids. All of them. “

“I don’t know how I can take them away from Roman again,” she said quietly, thinking of the last scene she’d had with the kids earlier.  Without knowing it they’d tapped in to her hidden guilt. She could have made more effort to find Roman and tell him she was pregnant, but then there was no guarantee that he’d be there for her if she’d taken on Mike too.  It had been a difficult pregnancy, not finding out she was carrying twins for most of it, Gabby always being the shy one even in the womb. Then after Jennie died within months of Mike’s birth had been a blow for everyone.

“But can you work here?”

She started at his question before finding a place to sit down.

“I can work anywhere, if I had to work.”

“What?”

She looked over at him before half smiling, “I’m not short of money,” she confessed, “but that isn’t the point.”

“So what is stopping you from moving here? If money isn’t the problem?” Miles handed her a coffee, already knowing she took it black.

“Roman,” she admitted, “ he’s married and…”

“He’s separated,” Miles interrupted her, getting that mischievous twinkle in his warm brown eyes again.

“He’s married, he has Nicole and Lyndsay.  We’re…” Ella shrugged.

“You still have a thing for him?”

“Considering I think I’m actually blushing like a teenager gives you your answer,” she said with another sigh, “I can’t get involved with him again.”

“Is he offering you …” Miles paused, “a relationship?”

“Not in so many words. I could have moved back to the van ages ago but it was… nice to be there. “

“With him?”

Ella gave Miles a glare before she nodded, “yeah. It felt good Miles, to wait for him to come home at the end of the day. To see him with the kids and then, well, yeah, spend time getting to know him again.”

“You mean he was talkative during this time? ‘Cause the Roman we know is pretty quiet.”

“Oh god, really? He doesn’t talk to you?”

“No, he keeps to himself, always has done. I..” Miles looked around and seemed to suck in a breath before he finished, “I met him after the Boxing Day Tsunami.”

“I’m sorry Miles,” Ella said immediately and placed her hand on top of his, “Who did you lose?”

“My wife, my…” he paused again,  “daughter. Roman was part of the clean-up crew and relief effort.”

“Yeah,” Ella said quietly.

There was no point in her commiserating with him, no doubt he’d heard all the ‘im sorry’s’ to last him a lifetime, and she was sorry he’d gone through that, a lot of people had lost loved ones too soon in life and no matter how well meaning, an ‘I’m sorry’ wasn’t much consolation sometimes.

“So anyway, Roman, he’s a quiet S.O.B.”

“He really isn’t,” Ella said softly, “he’s quite passionate about some subjects.  Cooking being one.  He used to keep a diary back in the day and sometimes I’d be thinking he was writing about a  bad day and instead he was inventing a new recipe.”

“Now that does sound like him.”

She found she was sharing a smile with Miles and felt more relaxed than she had done for a while, even in Roman’s company, often being too aware that the kids wanted her and Roman to be more than just ‘housemates’.

“Haven’t you noticed that little frown he gets when he’s in the middle of cooking a meal and you ask him a random question not even connected with food?”

“Oh yes, Leah has mentioned that Roman tends to get a bit grumpy in the kitchen when you disturb him,” Miles chuckled before adopting a serious expression, “I have two spare rooms here you know, if you wanted to have somewhere to stay in the Bay, close to but not too close.”

“Miles are you serious?”

“Yeah I am, about time I had some people around me,” he nodded, his over-long curly hair flopping on to his forehead and he had that puppy dog expression on his face that made it impossible for her to say no too.

“Can I see the rooms?”

“Come on,” he placed his cup on the table and led her from the room and up the stairs first into one bedroom and then into the next. There was a lack of furniture in them, a bed here and chest of drawers there.

The air in the rooms had a slight musty smell from lack of use but aside from that the rooms were clean and tidy, and spookily like they were waiting for her.  She nodded even as she walked over to the window in the one that would be her room and peered out.  There was a flowering vine growing up next to it and she gave a shudder. When you had plants like that it meant that you had insects and insects were usually accompanied by spiders.  She wasn’t so fond of spiders.

“What are you thinking?”

“That you need a gardener,” the words bursting out of her making her blush as he looked at her in shock.

“The vine you mean?”

“Got to have lots of spiders in there…” she shuddered.

Miles looked at her and laughed. She knew she was blushing but even more heat travelled to her face and she flung her hands up to cover her hot cheeks.

“Does Roman make you blush like that?”

“Stop it!” Ella groaned shaking her head.

“So yes or no?”

“Yes, but I’m going to need to sort out furniture and this vine,” she gestured behind herself to the window.  “Let’s have another coffee and sort out the details?”

Miles nodded and grinned before bounding down the stairs in front of her. Watching the way he’d cheered up in just the minute that it took her to decide that this was a good thing made her feel equally good inside.  The kids would equally hate and love being here. Close enough to Roman so they wouldn’t nag her too much but well, not actually staying with him. Still, there was time enough to sort out the details of how she was going to drag them out of Roman’s place.

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Chapter Thirteen

Miles returned home after a hard day at the school. He had a tonne of papers to mark and wanted nothing more than to sink down on the sofa and drink a cool beer before he got started.  Although for some of the papers that had been handed in he’d probably mark them more accurately with a dozen beers inside him, at least then he would be able to understand their illegible scribbles.

Walking into the house he stopped.  And looked.  And then looked again.  He did a quick double check that he’d walked into the correct house before sighing.  A slow smile crept on to his face as he looked around the newly redecorated living room, complete with state of the art tv and entertainment system.  He saw that the table had been replaced with a similar sized one, except this was finished with a soft wax coating on it, like it had been polished the old fashioned way.

“Hello,” Ella called stepping down the last of the stairs and into the room he was in.

“I.. this is my place isn’t it?”

“Well you said I could make myself at home,” she told him a mischievous smile on her face.

“I see you have.”

“The gardeners have cleared back the vine.”

“How many spiders did they find?”

Ella shuddered, “I didn’t ask…”  she said flushing red when he laughed at her.

“So have you moved in yet?”

“Not technically…”

“Told the kids….”

“No.”

“Told Roman?”

“No.”

Miles laughed before he deposited his bag on the table and then moved over to the fridge to claim two bottles of beer. He was relieved to see that she hadn’t revamped the kitchen in her ‘moving in’ although there was still time.

Handing over a beer to her he grinned as she opened the bottle and took a long drink.

“I.. er… it’s…. “

“Complicated?”

“How do you think Roman will take it?”

“Ella, I can’t speak for Roman. Especially as the Roman you seem to know and talk about is not the Roman we all know. Sure he’s the kind of guy who’d go out of his way for you but you make him sound like a hero or something.”

“He is a hero. He has the medals to prove it.”

“And well he’s never been communicative,” Miles drank from his bottle, “Medals huh?”

“Yeah, a lot of them,” she smiled unaware of the expression that crossed her face whenever she talked about Roman.

“Maybe you should send him a text?”

“You mean after I’ve moved out?”

“Aside from the fact you don’t actually sleep here I think you’ve moved out.”

“Miles, this isn’t funny. What am I going to tell the kids?”

He chuckled, “Maybe you need to be honest with them. It isn’t like you are in a relationship with Roman.  He is married to someone else.”

“That is true.”

“And anyway, it isn’t like he can’t still see them. So, you planning on telling him?”

“Eventually,” she grimaced.

They shared a look before giving into shared laughter again.

“It’s going to be good to have you here,” Miles said after a while.

“I’ll remind you that you said that I’m sure,” she murmured before pointing him in the direction of the table, “Don’t you have marking to do?”

“You are a terrible taskmaster. I bet you make the kids do their homework too!”

“I do.”

“Evil woman,” he grinned at her.

Ella smiled and took a long drink from the bottle draining it. She got up and moved out to the recycling bin out back and deposited the empty bottle in there.  She thought she heard something coming from the back as she walked out there but dismissed it.  There were a number of caravans with people in them so it was probably that.

 

***

 

 

Roman had looked at his phone debating whether to call her or not.  Something was going on that he wasn’t privy too; her disappearance the other day after a row with the kids had been the start of the strained atmosphere within the house.  He wasn’t unused to atmospheres living with Nic and Martha together under the same roof but no, there was more going on.   She didn’t seem to laugh as much when she was around them.

He called himself paranoid at first, they weren’t in a relationship although technically co-parenting the children, and he included Mike in that, would qualify as a kind of relationship if asked. No, he knew from seeing her around the house, from spending time with her that she fit.  She was the one he’d been missing from his life.  He wanted that relationship, wanted to see if they were still compatible. But the thing was, he wasn’t free. He was married. With a child that was growing more and more distant from him the more he became involved with Ella.

Feeling the need to talk this out he’d made his way over to Miles’s place.  As he walked through the caravan site he noticed that the place looked different.  There was a new neatness to it. Caravans were washed clean, their windows and aluminium shinning with a gleam he hadn’t seen before.  The lawns and areas around each van were neatly landscaped and then approaching the house he noticed that the window frames had been given a fresh coat of paint, their panes shiny and the vine that had crawled up the side of the house was cut back.

He went around back like he normally did and heard Ella’s voice. For a few minutes he stood there, afraid to say anything and then he couldn’t. She and Miles were talking about her moving in with the other man.  Not that he could ever deny Miles happiness but Ella was the one person he would … what, he mocked himself. She sounded happy with Miles and he looked down at his hands he saw only the mocking reminder of his marriage, the gold band around his finger.

Prying it loose he twisted it around his swollen finger until he managed to scrape it over his knuckle and finally remove it.  Resisting the urge to throw the thing as far as he could he placed it in his pocket and starred out at the sea.

He should let go of Ella too.

Not that he had her.

No.

The idea of her.  That’s what he needed to let go off. Maybe the kids would settle better if he took a half step back and defer to her more.  Let them see that nothing was going to happen between him and their mother.

He was surprised that it hurt more to decide that than when he’d faced ending his marriage.

Roman Harris knew he was a doomed man.

He couldn’t admit he was in love with Ella Addison because she was now with his best friend.

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Chapter Fourteen

 

Ella guided the sulking children into Miles’s house and their new home.  She prodded Mike and he reluctantly said a quiet hello to Miles before slinking with the twins.  Taking them up the stairs she showed them their bedroom. Bunk beds for Mike and Toby along with a wardrobe each and a metal locker for their sports stuff or toys whatever up one end of the room and for her daughter there was a pink privacy screen  that she could pull out if she wanted and a princess bed.  Next to it a small bedside unit and a desk-slash-dressing table and to the other side her own wardrobe and locker unit.  Bookshelves and an entertainment unit completed the room along with bean bags.

“So you are bribing us with pretty things?” Toby muttered folding his arms across his chest.

She would have said that he’d picked up the body language from being around his father but he’d always done it, like it was genetic trait handed down.  Facing him she folded her own arms and gave him a narrow-eyed look.

“We can’t stay with Roman. He is married and it wouldn’t be appropriate. So here are your choices, you get to live here as you demanded or you go back to the city.  I’m also quite willing to send you to boarding school. Now before you claim that you wish to live with Roman again,” her gaze moved around the three of them, “let me once more point out the legal ramifications. Mike would not live with you, in fact between his boarding school and us relocating to the city you would barely see him.  Two, Roman is your biological father but there isn’t a court in the land that would grant him a care order for several reasons. So do you want to argue with me again or accept this compromise?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, instead walking away from them and heading back down the stairs to where Miles was waiting. He handed her a cup of coffee as soon as he saw her and she gave him a small smile in response.

“So, it will be just you moving in then?”

“Probably,” she murmured trying to smile, “Are you sure that this is what you want Miles?”

“It will be good,” he grinned at her, “especially being able to wind Roman up with all those stories you’ll tell me.”

She moved to sit at the table with him and drank deeply from her cup. It did nothing to calm her churning nerves as she awaited the children.  Finally they came down the stairs and approached her in formation and she could have grinned at that if she wasn’t so fed up of being the bad guy.

“On one condition,” Toby began.

“No conditions,” Ella shot back immediately.  “You are the kids and I’m the adult.  Now thank Miles for letting you move in here.”

“What? No freaking way,” Mike muttered.

“We want to see Dad every day….”

Ella turned her head and glared at them finally losing her temper.

“I said, thank Miles for allowing you to move in here.” Her accent slipping into that prissy sounding British one.

“No, we don’t even want to be here so why should we…”

“Toby enough,” From Gabby.  “Thank you Miles, we’ll try not to be too messy.”

“You’re welcome Gabby,” he murmured. “But I have a condition that you need to stick too.”

Ella raised an eyebrow as she looked at him.

“What is it?” Gabby asked.

“It’s just that you need to call me Mr Copeland at school. There won’t be any special perks from living with your headmaster.”

“I want to go see Dad… I bet he isn’t…”

“Toby that is enough. I’ve had it.  Stop dictating to me I’m your mother and this is not a democracy.  You’ve been given a choice of living here because I understand that you want to be close to your father.   That choice can be taken away if you do not respect me.  Now the three of you go back up stairs and into your bedroom and if I hear so much as a whisper for the rest of the day I will pack all of you off to different boarding schools in the UK.”

Toby paled and took a step back before the three of them hastily disappeared from her sight and ran up the stairs.   She didn’t lose her temper often but when she did they knew better than to argue with her.

“I’m feeling like I should disappear to my room and be quiet too,” Miles said quietly.

“Ha bloody ha,” Ella muttered burying her head in her hands.  “Why did I have kids I could be on a beach right now surfing?”

“Still can, could probably catch the evening swell,” Miles grinned at her.

She lifted her head and looked at him before biting her lip, “No… I … don’t have my board here…” she murmured a longing note entering her voice.

“Roman used to surf,” Miles said slowly drinking from his cup.

“Used to? What happened?”

“He got married to Martha and everything he liked doing seem to stop.  She moved into his house and he took care of her.”

“Didn’t she work?”

“No, except when she came to the Bay. Back then I think she was an electrician or something. Her adoptive parents ran a farm.”

Ella nodded feeling disquiet at asking personal questions about Roman and Martha, especially about Martha considering she’d never met the other woman.  A part of her hoped she never would she had a feeling that the blame for the break-up of her and Roman’s marriage would be lobbied solely on her shoulders despite the fact they’d spilt before she’d even come here.

“So Roman…”

“He took care of her, like I said. Some of us may have questioned his decision at the time but we were firmly told to ‘butt out’ I believe was the phrase used.  Bet he’s wishing he’d listened to us now you’ve pitched up.”

“Gah man stop that,” Ella knew she was blushing as she met his kindly gaze.

“But it’s fun to see your face turn that colour and sooner or later you and Roman need to sit down and work out…”

“Stop,” she held a hand up and looked at him. “There is no me and Roman. Won’t be. So don’t go there.”

“Talking to me or yourself there? Come on let’s get another coffee,” he murmured standing up and walking into the kitchen with their empty cups.  “Unless you want to go to the diner?”

“Just out of interest where is the best place to bury a body in Summer Bay?”

“I’m sure you’ve already scoped a couple of places out,” Miles called back and she laughed.

 

******

Roman sat facing Martha in the solicitors office.  A divorce if done in the first year of marriage required both parties to undergo couples counselling but luckily they didn’t have to go through that he thought with another sigh.

“You’ve taken your ring off,” she commented in a pinched sounding voice.

“As have you, in fact you barely ever wore your ring.”

“It didn’t fit right after having Lyndsey,” she pouted.

“And at the time I offered to get it resized or even buy you a new one. Neither option was viable,” he said slowly keeping emotion out of his voice.  Viable wasn’t the phrasing he wanted to use in that sentence. Acceptable was a more accurate term.

“Are we going to keep arguing?” She snapped out.

Roman recognised the signs. First she provoked him and he reacted then she’d turn it into a drama and finally when he’d had enough and tried to close down the argument she’d make out it was all his fault anyway.

“Why not?”

She glared at him and he gave her a bland look in return no longer her control him.

“Sorry for the delay, “ the solicitor said coming back into the office and resuming his seat opposite them at the desk.

“That’s okay,” Roman murmured.

“So anyway we were discussing the terms of your divorce.  You have to wait a full twelve months before you can proceed.”

“Is that from the time Martha moved out or from the start of our separation?”

“My god how eager are you to get rid of me?”

“I would suggest you don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t like the answer to,” he shot back immediately.

“You…”

“Shut up Martha,” he snapped out.

“Please,” the solicitor interrupted obviously used to sparring couples.  “If you were residing in the same residence you’ll both need to sign an affidavit to state that you were living separately.”

“If we do that then you’ll be rid of me at least three months sooner,” Roman pointed out to Martha.

“I couldn’t possibly…”

“Really Martha? You’ll drag this out longer?”

“You really hate me don’t you?” Martha managed to look distraught and smug at the same time as the solicitor looked at her with sympathy.

Roman smirked as he thought of a hundred possible answers settling on, “No I don’t hate you I just can’t stand living with you.”

“Fine I’ll do that affidavit. You’ll be clear of me in nine months. That suit you?”

“Fine, now let’s talk about Lyndsey,” he moved on not rising to the taunt in her voice.

“Lyndsey isn’t your daughter,” she announced.

Roman looked down at his hands seeing the scars on his knuckles. Not one scar came from hitting a woman because he had been brought up to believe that as a man you protected women, you made sure they were looked after but right now he wanted to throttle the life out of Martha because he knew she wasn’t lying to him anymore. Lyndsey was the reason they had stayed together for so long, she was the reason he’d never questioned his life until now.  He would have done anything to make that little girl feel safe and loved.

“Say that again,” he murmured.

“She’s Hugo’s.”

He closed his eyes feeling everything slipping away from him.  Ella was with someone else.  Nic was in trouble and wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. His marriage was over.  He felt like he had nothing left.

“I see, well that makes child support easier to work out. Better start getting your CV out there and look for a job because you are getting nothing from me,” Roman shot out.

“No…wait…” Martha gasped.

He pinned her with his gaze looking deep into her eyes.  “She was born after we were married.   So you had an affair.  Why should I keep you after that? And forget about me paying for the farm anymore.”

He stood unable to hear any more , unable to put into words what he was feeling and with quick strides he left the solicitors office and walked away before he said anymore or even did something stupid.

Hours later he walked in through his front door and saw immediately that Ella had gone.  The pain that he felt was nothing like he’d ever experienced before. Not even like the first time he’d lost her. Not even when he’d seen friends dying in front of him.   He knew that he’d do anything to get her back. To have her to come home to every day and groaned because there was no way he’d ever do anything to hurt Miles.

Moving through to the empty feeling kitchen a room he used to love to be in because he felt safe when he was cooking he poured himself a long shot of whisky hoping that he could numb some of the raging feelings inside of himself.

It was there that Nic found him a couple of hours later, the bottle now half empty in front of him.

“Dad?”

“Nic,” he murmured back to her.

“What…”

“You’ll be pleased to learn that Ella has moved out so you’ll no longer have to share your room,” he announced.

Nic collapsed into a seat opposite him, “Where did she go?”

“She’s moved in with Miles,” he surmised.

“Oh, are they like…”

“Like Nicole?” He pressed his lips together testing their numbness factor.  Moderately numb he decided taking another drink from his glass.

“Together? Because she was way out of your league!”

“Well thank you for your assessment Princess,” he murmured slowly.

“Have you even looked at an article about her? She’s famous,” Nic shot out,  “and rich. What the hell was she doing here? Slumming it?”

“Again, thank you.  Maybe if you paid rent I could afford to look for better accommodation.”

“You want money off me? You can have it. As long as it doesn’t…”

“Doesn’t what Nicole?”

“Go to Martha,” she stated slowly.

“And why don’t you like my wife?”

Nic reached for the bottle of whisky and took a drink from it before speaking again. “Because she cheated on you.”

“What? You are telling me that now?”

“I couldn’t tell you at the time because…” she blinked and he swore that there were tears in her eyes.

“Because?” he prompted.

“She said that she’d tell you my secret,” Nic said slowly.

Roman shook his head. “I already know.”

“You know I’m gay?”

“Nic I’ve known for years,” he said lifting his hand and cupping her face when she’d gone to look away from him. “I’ve never not loved you. “ he added feeling emotional.

“Even though I’m not going to give you grandchildren? “

“I care that you are happy.  Whoever you are with,” he murmured slowly. “And please I’m so not old enough for grandchildren,” he added giving her a grin.

“I… “ Nic took a long swallow from the bottle before coughing as the fiery liquid hit the back of her throat. “I don’t think Lyndsey is yours,” she added in a hushed whisper.

“Yes, I found that out today. “

He shrugged. Tomorrow he would grieve for what could have been but tonight he was dealing with Ella leaving him.

“I’m sorry Dad I tried to tell you so many times. I was …”

“It’s going to be okay Nic,” he said not quite believing that himself.

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