Roman was running along the path near the beach. He loved this stretch of his run; he could see a kind of forever in front of him, the way the headland curved around and the swell of the blue sea. Sometimes he was tempted to strip off his top and trainers and just run full pelt into the sea, letting the water cool his overheated body and losing himself in the swell of the surf. Today though, he was brought up short when he saw that Ella was on the beach, just a little way away from him. She was wearing short jean shorts and a white vest top. Her shoes were kicked off and she was using her hands to emphasise something to Gabby, their daughter. Both of them had been swimming he could tell from the way that their hair was ever so slightly curly. Suddenly without warning both Gabby and Ella tumbled over on their hands on to the hot sand, performing a perfect cartwheel in sync. He felt his breath leaving in a sharp sigh because he was so taken aback by their beauty.
He wasn’t a poet, he wasn’t anything special but somehow Ella had loved him once and he was going to do all he could to get her back. Recovering quickly he managed to get his phone out and flick through the options to video them as they did another cartwheel. Gabby wobbled on hers this time and almost went over, and his wonderful angel child just laughed. With a deft movements Ella began to do a tumbling run along the beach, a somersaults, flips and then ending with a back flip. He’d all but forgotten just how good she was just stopping himself from applauding her.
She collapsed on the sand after that with Gabby rushing over and lying down next to her mother. Feeling like he was spying on them he forced himself to head over to where they were. With Gabby there at least Ella couldn’t totally reject him he thought with a snarl at the wuss he was becoming.
“Hi,” he called out.
“Roman, Dad!” Gabby said quickly flushing at the stumbling over what she called him. Toby had been the one to call him Dad almost immediately and just occasionally Mike would slip up and forget to call him ‘sir’.
He smiled at his thoughts before looking at Ella. “You look like you’ve been having fun,” he began and then felt himself flushing because there was no way that sounded innocent once the words came out of his mouth.
“The boys are using their body boards so we came in,” she said slowly.
“I should really dust off my surfboard,” he muttered.
“You should go out with Mum she’s wonderful,” Gabby said quickly.
Roman pressed his lips together to stop the sudden laugh that bubbled up and caught Ella giving him a glare. He was tempted to ask if Gabby meant surfing or out as in on a date and only the thought of how much Ella would kill him managed to stop him.
“It’s been a long time since I went out on it so I’m not sure that it’s even any good.” He found himself saying instead.
“Maybe you should invest in a new board? These guys will need upgrading soon so we’ll be shopping in the schoolies,” Ella said to him.
He thought he sensed an invitation to her words but what if he was pushing things? She’d already rejected him a couple of times recently.
“I better…” he began.
Ella got to her feet and reached down to help Gabby before she ran over to collect discarded shoes, bags and towels. She lifted her hand and waved to the Toby and Mike indicating they should come in before she spun back around and looked at him.
“We’re going to have a bbq, want to join us?”
He grinned, “Depends, is Miles cooking?”
Gabby snorted before she burst into girlish giggles. “He’s scared of your cooking Mum,” she said when she’d finished.
“Hey Missy,” Ella pretended to be affronted and mock pushed Gabby who laughed again and he couldn’t help smiling at them.
“Hey Dad,” Toby called loudly as he ran up the beach and then to the showers to wash off the sea water. Mike did likewise and then they collected boards and towels and walked over to where they were standing.
“Just invited Roman to the BBQ,” Ella began to explain.
“Phew, at least… “Mike began stopping when Ella glared at him.
“Look, I can cook,” she muttered stomping off. “Occasionally. If there is a tin involved and full instructions!”
“Come on kids,” Roman followed the way she’d gone and soon they were at Summer House.
Miles had already begun the BBQ and chuckled when he saw Roman in tow. “Funny, when Ella suggested the BBQ I didn’t think she’d stock up on chefs.”
“If one more person…” Ella began. “Kids go get showered and changed.” She instructed watching as they disappeared running up the stairs. Turning towards him she gave him a slow smile, “What do you want to drink?” She asked formally, sounding a little bit British.
He shared a look with Miles before saying he’d love a beer and then she disappeared herself to get the drinks.
“So are you going to start banging pots around again?” Miles taunted him.
“Miles,” Roman said quickly. He stepped forward to say something else when Miles laughed suddenly. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re an ass mate,” Miles told him gesturing with the tongs. “I’m not going to break confidences but you need to step up here.”
“Are you planning to hit me with those or turn the burgers?”
“Probably both,” Miles murmured giving him a grin.
“I… “ he paused wondering just how much he could tell his friend. In all the months since Ella had been back in his life he’d never opened up about her or their past. “I love her,” he finally murmured.
“I know mate,” Miles shot back. “But it’s complicated and you’re still married and then there’s the twins and..”
“In a nutshell.”
He stopped talking when he saw Ella walking back over towards them and couldn’t help the way his eyes drifted down to her body and then her long legs. She had a golden tan from her time spent on the beach and her hair had that caramel colour to it when it became sun-kissed, golden lengths intertwined with the light brown. She still had it pinned up but he could tell from the tendrils that curled around face.
Any second now and he’d start panting like a schoolboy, he thought with a groan.
“Here,” Ella handed out drinks, taking a swig from her own bottle as she eased into a seat nearby. “Kids have finished in the shower if you want to freshen up,” she told him.
“Polite way of telling me I stink there,” he shot out grinning as she immediately flushed. He took a long drink and placing his bottle on the table he headed indoors and made his way into the bathroom.
Kicking off his trainers and shrugging out of his clothes he decided on a quick shower and after towelling dry he grabbed someone’s deodorant. The shorts were okay but he sniffed cautiously at his top. Definitely had smelt better, he thought as he pushed it in the sink and washed it out. Squeezing out the excess water he patted it with a towel before pulling it back over his head. He shivered as it touched his skin but after a moment he no longer noticed it. At least now he wouldn’t have to stand downwind of everybody, he thought with a grin.
It wasn’t long before he was back with them, choosing standing with Miles at the BBQ rather than sitting next to Ella. The kids soon joined them and he found himself smiling at seeing that Gabby had changed into a dress and done her hair before his thoughts turned to when she’d do that kind of thing before heading out on a date. Having barely survived Nicole’s teenage dating life he didn’t have it in him to go through it all again he thought as a grimace passed over his face. Luckily Miles asked him about the food and he was suitably distracted before he talked to Ella about finding a convent for their daughter.
Soon they were seated around the patio table, which he could have sworn it was a new one from the last time he’d hung out with Miles, and the conversation started to flow once more after the first snacks were eaten.
“Are we going to get new surfboards? I’ve got my money …” Mike murmured flushing as people looked at him.
“Probably, maybe,” Ella said to him as he sat next to her. “We’ll see. Has anyone told Roman about your birthdays?”
Toby shook his head vigorously, his mouth too full of burger for him to speak.
“Our birthdays are three months apart,” Mike began.
“Hey I want to tell him, he’s my Dad!” Toby shot out, a cross look on his face.
“Tobias Addison!” Ella called out quickly.
“Uh huh, full name shout,” Gabby murmured. “Toby…”
“Well he is,” Toby defended.
“What the kids were trying to tell you is that because they have birthdays three months apart, we usually have a middle date where we try and do something special,” Ella explained giving Toby another warning look as he leaned forward to talk.
“I see,” Roman found himself saying. Full name shout? What was that about he wondered? And all the traditions that Ella and the kids had that he wasn’t a part of. It made him more aware of how much time he’d missed with the twins.
“We decided that this year we wanted to have a sleepout on the beach,” Gabby said quietly.
“That sounds good, I know a perfect spot for that.”
“Great, you can probably take the kids and show them tomorrow,” Ella offered. “But well this year they want you to be there.”
“What? I mean of course, but..” Roman floundered and looked at Ella.
Spending a night with her was something that had been a recurring fantasy for the past few months, and that magical afternoon where she’d come to his house and seduced him, although not that he’d needed that much seduction, was just the tip of what he wanted.
He looked at Ella, saw her smiling at him and he took that as encouragement. “Is that because you don’t want to camp out?”
“Ha, no,” she flushed as the kids looked at her. “Come on you all know I hate camping,” she defended.
“We hate your cooking but we still have to eat,” Mike shot back at her.
“Roman Michael Addison! You are so grounded!”
Roman did a double-take, “Wait, Roman?”
Miles and Ella laughed, “You so didn’t know? No one told you?” Miles was saying to him.
“Know?” Roman frowned.
“My other Mum and Dad named me Roman after you,” Mike said slowly.
“Michael wanted it,” Ella said quietly.
She stood up and collected together the empty drink containers, carrying them over to the recycling before coming back for the plates and bowls. Gabby immediately shot up and began helping, gathering the rubbish together and the sauces. She glared at her brother until he sighed loudly and began helping. The three of them moved inside.
“Mum doesn’t talk about my dad sometimes its upsets her.”
“I can understand that,” Roman nodded. “He was very quiet and serious. At least at first, we soon learned different. One of our commanding officers took it upon himself to tick your dad off. I still don’t know how Michael did it but the guy walked into his office and found that someone had glued everything. Folders, stapler, pen all glued to the top of the desk. His chair glued to the floor. Must have taken ages to do.”
“My Dad did that?”
“Yup,” Roman nodded and finished his beer.
“Can you tell me more stories?”
The earnest look on the boy’s face had Roman nodding agreement even though he didn’t like thinking of the past himself.
“This has been good,” Miles said quickly as though sensing something.
“Yeah, thanks for not killing us with your cooking.”
“Getting me confused with Ella there,” Miles said before calling out “ouch”.
“I heard that,” Ella muttered. “It’s the kid’s bedtime, so Mike time to head up.”
He gave a grimace before calling out goodnight to everyone and heading into the house.
“My cue to go,” Roman said quietly.
“Twins will be ready for you to pick up in the morning,” she commented referencing his custodial visit.
Roman stood up and stretched. “Thanks. And thanks for the invite. It’s been a good evening.”
Miles nodded at him and he stood for a moment debating with himself about kissing Ella before giving in to the impulse and pressing a kiss to her lips and with that he left. He couldn’t help but imagine more nights like this, only with him and Ella turning in for the evening before heading up to bed together. As a couple.
He groaned with frustration that everything was so complicated.