Ella slowed the bike to a crawl before stopping completely and placing her feet firmly on the ground. She felt a few unfamiliar aches in places she’d forgotten she had as she turned the engine off and stretched out her hands, flexing her fingers. Pushing at the kickstand she parked the bike and climbed off it then came removing her gloves and finally the helmet.
Walking up the path to Roman’s front door she lifted her hand and knocked once. She could hear excited kids voices coming from inside and grinned. Roman must have not realised how noisy they got on too much sugar. The door swung open and she was face to face with Roman.
“I need to borrow Toby,” she murmured looking past him at her son.
“What… why…” Toby muttered in a whiny tone of voice.
Ella resisted smiling, “Because I said so….”
“Ah Mum…” she did smile when he groaned his response at her.
“Go put on jeans and get your jacket,” she instructed him.
He gave her another look before slowly, and with a deliberate stomp on each step, moved upstairs to follow her instructions and get changed.
“Do you want to come in?” Roman murmured quickly.
“No, I’m good.”
Roman nodded before glancing over her shoulder and obviously catching sight of the motorbike parked up.
“What’s going on Ella?”
Mike shot her and then Roman a look before rushing over to the door. “Mum?” He questioned before seeing her bike parked up and then an excited note entered his voice. “You got your bike out? Cool, can I have a go?”
She heard Gabby call to her in her usual disapproving tone and smiled as her kids ran out of the house past a sullen looking Roman and over to her bike.
“Did you enjoy the movie?” She asked changing the subject and covering up Mike’s excited chatter as he related to Gabby facts about her bike such as horsepower and injection engines.
“What is that?” Roman folded his arms across his chest and glared.
“It’s my bike. Normally its housed in the city where my apartment is but I thought it needed a run out.” She gestured towards the black superbike with the arm of her sunglasses used as a pointer. “Want a go?”
“How long have you had that?”
“That one? A few years. I upgraded from my last one.”
Roman’s scowl threatened to become permanently etched on his face. “Are you insane? A motorbike? What would have happened if you’d come off it? Would I even have been told about the kids? Ella…”
She took a step back at his fierce tone and was about to say something when Toby came barrelling down the stairs and rushed past them both to go stand near the bike.
“I can assure you that I am an extremely good rider and secondly, it’s not really any concern of yours what I do is it?”
He flinched as she spoke the last bit and gave her a hurt look in response. She wanted to call back the words but they were true. Roman was married. They weren’t in a relationship. He didn’t have any say over what she did. Not that he would have any if there was something going on, she added silently in her head.
Turning away from him she moved down the path and back to her bike. Picking up the spare helmet she passed that to Toby and laughed at the look of disappointment on Mike’s face.
“Hey, no fair I asked first,” he pouted.
“Toby and I need to go for a chat,” Ella murmured earning a glare aimed at herself from Toby but his excitement from a ride on the motorbike wasn’t diminished for long.
She missed the look that Roman shot in her direction even as he eased Mike and Gabby back towards the house as she pulled on her helmet and climbed back on the bike. Toby climbed up behind her and she started up the engine and pulled slowly away from the curb. She waited until she was out of sight of Roman before she really increased her speed feeling Toby clutching at her nervously for a brief moment before he relaxed again and began enjoying himself.
She felt the thrill of the ride, aware of the pull of the open road ahead of her. It had been a long time since she’d been on her bike, even longer since she’d taken any of the kids out with her. After a while had passed she pulled over at a little beachside café some distance away from Summer Bay and slowed to a stop turning the engine off and kicking out the stand that steadied the bike.
Toby reluctantly shifted himself off the bike and removed his gloves and helmet to peer at her.
“Go order some drinks and we’ll take a little walk on the beach,” she murmured taking the helmet from his hands.
She dealt with her own helmet and gloves before standing and stretching out her back. Putting both helmets on the bike handlebars she paced over to where Toby was standing at the kiosk and paid for the drinks. He followed her slowly as they went over to the beach. The sand was pale golden the same as in Summer Bay but it seemed finer, more powdery and their footsteps disappeared as soon as they moved on.
“Tobes,” she murmured.
“I don’t want to talk Mum,” he sounded sullen.
“I know but we can’t let this go on. It will make everyone unhappy. Especially you.”
Ella looked at her son noting the sheen of tears in his eyes and the way his bottom lip was jutting out. Gabby went quiet when she was dealing with something but her Toby got loud. He would shout and make dramatic scenes until he was forced to talk about what was bothering him or he resolved the issue for himself. It was difficult for her to keep her distance when he was struggling with something but she had to learn to do it as because as he grew older he had to learn to work things out for himself.
“Mum, he’s my Dad, mine and Gabby’s…” Toby muttered sounding fierce.
“Mike knows that Tobes, he’s not trying to steal him from you.”
“He is. He buts in all the time. He’s always showing off.”
“It’s not a competition. You and Mike, and your sister, Gabby, are special in your own ways. You are gifted in different things. Mike hasn’t had a Dad either and…”
“Mike doesn’t understand!” Toby shot out with, “You don’t understand.”
Ella stopped and looked out at sea before sitting down on the still warm sand despite the evening drawing in. She’d have to set off for home in a bit making sure they were back before dark. Her son paced a little way off and sat down himself just out of reach of her. As stubborn as his father, she thought with a smile.
“I understand very well. You are jealous of Mike because you think that Roman won’t have time for you if he spends time with your brother. But acting like this Toby is not going to make things better is it?” She took a long drink of her coffee as she thought about her next words, “I know that sometimes it’s hard to be a twin. Sometimes you get overlooked because the focus is on you and your sister. You can’t cut her out because you are upset at Mike that just isn’t fair.”
He gasped at her and began stuttering a response before lapsing into silence.
“Tobes, you know she hates camping. So what was that about this morning?”
She watched as her son shot up and began stomping around. His agitation was made more noticeable by the jerkiness of his hand movements as he obviously reacted to her question. He stilled suddenly and looked at her a guilty expression on his face as it sank in what he’d done.
“Mum,” he gave a little gasp, dropped his drink bottle to the sand and rushed over to her side.
“Toby,” she pulled him down to sit next to her and put her arm around him drawing him closer to her. He gave a hiccupping sob and she had to force herself not to rush and tell him everything would be okay.
“Will Gabby forgive me?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“Of course she will.” Ella answered on behalf of her precious daughter knowing that Gabby couldn’t hold a grudge if her life depended on it.
“He doesn’t have a dad does he? And Roman, er Dad, doesn’t mind him tagging along. So I should be …”
“Grateful that you can spend time with both your brother and father. I know having a dad is a new thing for you and we’re all getting used to the situation Toby. Especially Mike, because suddenly his family is changing and he has to work out where he fits in again.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and Gabby have a new father and sister. Mike won’t ever have that.”
“You could marry Roman and then he would,” Toby muttered.
Ella forced herself not to blush at her son’s hastily muttered sentence knowing that he was only thinking of a logical solution to the problem and not hopefully picking up on anything.
Fixing a grin to her face, she leaned over and gave her son a nudge even as she murmured, “Oh I could, could I?”
Toby blushed under her scrutiny before he chuckled. “I’ll be nicer to him I promise,” he said after a while.
“Come on we should get back.”
Draining her coffee she got to her feet and pointed at his fallen drinks bottle. He reclaimed it and joined her as they walked back to where the bike was. After making sure their rubbish was safely disposed off they once more put on helmets and got on the bike. It took longer to get back to Summer Bay than they had taken on the ride out due to her getting lost and taking the wrong road so that it was fully dark when they arrived back at Roman’s.
She wasn’t surprised that the door flew open before she’d even turned the engine off and looked over at an angry Roman standing there glaring at her.
Toby shot off the back and ran up the path to the house forgetting to remove his helmet in his eagerness to talk about the ride to his siblings leaving her alone with Roman. She removed her own helmet as she climbed off the bike and walked towards him.
“It’s late,” he commented slowly obviously mindful of the children.
“It is….” Whatever else she was going to say was lost as he took a big step towards her allowing the door to close behind him giving him the privacy he wanted to speak again.
“You ever take off with one of my kids like that again and I’ll report you for child endangerment. How could you be so bloody reckless?” he snapped out his voice quiet and his expression like ice.
“Oh stop being a drama queen,” she snapped back. “The kids have been on the bike before. I’m not stupid with them.”
He reached out and yanked on her arm, his grip like iron.
“I mean it. Don’t do it again.”
Just as suddenly as he caught hold of her he let her go and turned marching into the house and it was a march, his shoulders back and his feet placed firmly down on each step, like his commanding officer had just ordered him to report.
She breathed out slowly feeling the shudder of the breath slipping over her lips. Approaching the door she paused in the doorway and looked over at her children. Toby was standing close to Gabby obviously feeling the need to reconnect with his twin and Mike was perched on the sofa listening intently to Toby talking about the ride on the bike. Luckily for her Toby hadn’t realised they had gotten lost on the way back.
“Okay Mike, are you ready to go home?”
“On the bike, sure!” he jumped up and reached for the helmet from Toby.
“Maybe Mum will take you out for longer tomorrow?” Toby suggested handing over the helmet.
Mike’s eyes went wide, “Better still, drop me off at school on it?”
“Stop your plotting, come on time to go,” Ella said slowly to them very aware of Roman’s quiet simmering beside her.
Mike made a round of goodbyes before darting out to where the bike was, she followed him at a slower pace and with a wave at the twins climbed on and adjusted her helmet before putting the keys in the ignition. Her son got on the back and within moments she set off doing a long circuit of Summer Bay before finally heading to Summer Bay house. Mike’s reluctance to climb off the back of the bike mirrored hers. She’s enjoyed taking it out on a spin and ignored that she would be aching tomorrow because of it.
“Want to get some popcorn and watch a movie?” she found herself asking her son.
“Sure, can we get a pizza first though, I’m so hungry,” he murmured giving her a grin.
“Pretty sure you just spent the day with a chef,” she shot back and grinned at the look of consternation on his face. Of course Roman had fed them, that is what he did, he took care of people. She found herself frowning again at the way he’d been earlier. Acting totally out of character.
“Yes but I’m a teenager,” Mike shot out with as he walked into the house.
Ella followed at a slower pace drawing out her phone to make the order. She glanced over at Miles and gave him a wave before pausing her call. “Pizza?” she asked him and watched him nod in response. She added on to the order and then after placing her helmet next to Mike’s on the table moved over to sit on the sofa with them.
“S’up,” Miles murmured in greeting.
Mike immediately launched into a monologue of everything he’d been doing for the past couple of days not noticing her and Miles grinning at each other as they listened to him. He only went quiet when the pizza arrived.
“Drinks?” Miles asked heading over to the fridge.
“I’ll have a beer,” Ella decided.
“Me too?” Mike asked her.
“Ha no, but I will let you have a soda.”
Drinks and food sorted they settled in front of the TV and started watching a movie. Sci fi. Her least favourite genre she thought mentally groaning but the plot was good enough for her to forget about the drama between her and Roman for a bit.
Honestly, she never thought it would be this hard between them. They’d never had a problem with communication before talking about everything. She’d come to rely on him again in just a short space of time, and even now when things were tense between them she knew that if she had any problems she’d be able to call him up and he’d drop everything for her.
“You okay?” Miles asked her after Mike had gone up to bed.
“Just distracted,” she confessed. “I had that chat with Toby,” she added after a moment.
“Ah, did it go okay?”
“Kind of,” she bit on her bottom lip before draining the last of her beer and moving to tidy up the kitchen. Not that she had much to do there as Mike had taken the rubbish out for her before he went.
She jerked as she heard the question and the bottle in her hand skidded across the top and dropped to the floor. Cursing under her breath she picked it up and looked at the few drops of beer that had spilt from the bottom.
“No, he’s a jerk,” she said emphatically.
Miles commented in his matter of fact way, “the sooner his divorce is sorted out the sooner you two can start to move on.”
“I don’t think that will change him into Prince Charming!”
“I never had you done as the sort of person who needed rescuing?”
She titled her head to the side as she thought about what Miles was saying. “Maybe I want the fairy godmother and the pumpkin coach,” she mused.
Miles yawned and gave a shake of his head, “I know we haven’t known each other that long but I’m pretty sure you’d tell the fairy godmother where to shove it and turn up at the ball in combat boots!”
Ella’s mouth dropped open in shock before she giggled.
“You may be right,” she conceded and with that she wished him goodnight and made her way to bed.