“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.”
“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.