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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“Nic,” he murmured back to her.
“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.