Chapter Twenty

Three weeks after the BBQ saw Roman packing away the last of the camping gear away and looking over at her and the kids with a half-grin on his face. She could swear he’d put the spider in her tent deliberately just to make her want to sleep with him. Well, not ‘with – with’ him, but she’d be damned if she was going to spend the night looking out for spiders and had forced him to swap tents with her. Next year she was going to veto camping fo their birthday treat.

“We’re going to go get breakfast in the diner,” she announced to them as she brushed sand off her legs and began walking up the beach.

“That’s okay, I’ve got this,” Roman announced to her departing back and she tensed before nodding as if to agree with him.

“Mum,” Toby looked at her.

“Thought you were hungry?” She muttered the question to her son still feeling grumpy that they’d selected camping as their birthday treat let alone making her do it.  It wasn’t like she was leaving Roman to do all the work, she’d done her fair share putting up tents and buying sleeping bags for everyone.  Shopping was an important part of the preparations, she muttered silently inside her head.

“But Dad has so much to carry…” Toby pouted at her.

“Fine,” she huffed a breath between her lips. “Do what you want,” she added and was forced to watch as both Toby and Mike ran back towards where Roman was.

Gabby shook her head and peered after them, “Boys,” she commented in a voice that was sounding a touch like her sister Nicole’s.

“Come on you,” Ella murmured to her daughter leading her into the diner and collapsing at a table. She couldn’t help her yawn just as Leah came over to them and felt her cheeks warming as Leah gave her a leading look as she commented about having a good night.

“Yeah it was great, but Mum and me are so not campers,” Gabby announced with an elaborate flourish of her hand.

“You were snoring away missy,” Ella began.

“No way, you and dad were making so much noise…” Gabby must have sensed she’d said something for all eyes to suddenly be on her and stopped talking.

“You mean when I made him get rid of the spider,” Ella said quickly avoiding looking at Leah.

“Uh huh,” Leah turned some pages over in her order book, “Big was it?” she asked slowly.

Ella narrowed her eyes as she looked at the other woman, “Yeah it was huge. I was never fond of spiders,” she muttered quickly the words tumbling out.

“At least she didn’t scream this time…”

Ella groaned but managed to stop herself from dropping her face into her hands as Leah continued to give her that innocent but knowing look.

“Coffee,” she murmured quickly.

“And I want one too but Mum says I’m too young to get addicted to caffeine so I’ll have a juice,” Gabby announced as she reached for a menu.

She grinned at her daughter before reaching for a menu herself, “I think I’ll have an omelette. Cheese, tomato, and mushroom.”

“That sounds good,” Gabby murmured before ordering the vegetarian breakfast option for herself.

“Got it,” Leah made notes and tore off a slip which she left it on the table before heading into the kitchen.

“Are you okay Mum, only your face is red?”

“I’m fine, maybe I got a bit too much sun yesterday,” Ella covered quickly.

“It was okay, wasn’t it? Camping with Roman? The boys were so excited…” Gabby stopped when Leah came back to the table with their drink orders.

“Roman, not dad?” Ella teased her daughter. “Yes, it was fine and I’m sure they will thank you,” she murmured.

“I didn’t do…” Gabby tried to shrug it off.

“I’m not the only one who doesn’t like camping and we know it missy,” Ella sipped at her coffee sighing as the rich taste covered her tongue and not because of the caffeine hit.

Gabby pointed towards the toilets indicating where she was going before she shot off.

“Roman must be getting confused, your Mike still calls him sir half the time, this one can’t decide between Roman and Dad, and Toby called him Daddy the other day.”

Ella immediately felt another rush of guilt at keeping the twins birth a secret from Roman for so long and bit back a rush of words to defend herself.

“Yes,” she muttered not even sure what she was saying yes too before taking a long drink from her cup.

“Makes me wonder what you call him, especially when you’re alone,” Leah added.

Ella spat out her coffee feeling it go everywhere, “What?”

“Oh my word,” Leah quickly mopped up the spillage.

“I have no idea what…” Ella protested.

“He’s stopped avoiding you and he’s changed his shifts so he’s free in the afternoons.”

“Why do you think that has anything to do with me?” Ella managed to gasp out the question.

“Maybe because Irene spotted you heading out of Roman’s house the other week half dressed…”

Ella gasped again looking around the diner hurriedly and moaned when she saw Roman and the boys walking in along with Gabby heading back to the table.

“It was..” She began and moaned again.

“Here, let me go freshen this up for you before I take the boys order,” Leah said smoothly whisking away the half-drunk coffee cup.

“Problem?” Roman asked quickly reaching their side.

“I knocked it when I was talking to Ella,” Leah murmured. “No big deal,” she said as she walked away.

“We’re going camping again but in the bush,” Toby announced sitting down at the table and putting his hand towards Gabby’s drink.

“Stop,” Ella snapped. “First off, you need to ask politely and secondly, that is your sister’s drink.”

“She won’t mind…”

“I do,” Ella glared at her son until he backed down and sat meekly on the bench opposite.

“Whatever,” Toby muttered.

“One more word from you and you’ll be grounded for a year. I’m really getting fed up with your attitude right now.” Ella found herself scowling at her son.

“Can I get a juice please?” Mike asked in a subdued voice, her elder son looking around the group as he slid into the bench seat next to Toby.

“Order what you want,” Ella muttered, “Breakfast too.”  She added with barely a glance at Roman as he sat opposite her next to the boys.

“As Toby was saying,” he began. “I was talking to them about going out camping in the bush.”

“And that isn’t an option,” Ella muttered as Gabby eased into next to her.

She reached over and passed Gabby’s juice to her smiling as her daughter immediately said thanks.  Sometimes she wished a little of Toby’s brashness would rub off on her daughter in exchange for Gabby’s gentleness to go across to her brother.  Not that they weren’t alike in many ways,  and even though their personalities complimented each others’ there were times that her beautiful twins seemed like complete opposites.

“Why?” Roman was asking.

“Because Gabby doesn’t like camping, Toby and Mike should have remembered that. If you want to take them on a trip you need to find a compromise for all of them.”

She watched as Toby flushed guiltily and knew immediately that he’d deliberately set about cutting Gabby out of the activity. Her son was in for an incredibly long lecture when she got him home.

“We’ll have to have a talk and see what we can come up with then,” Roman murmured and she picked up on the undertone of disappointment in his voice. Obviously he wanted to take his son camping and show off some of those skills he had from his military background.

“Here’s your coffee, nice and refreshed there,” Leah called placing the cup in front of her.  “What can I get you?” she addressed Roman and the boys quickly writing down their orders before slipping away as easily as she’d approached the table.

Conversation was subdued around the table as they ate breakfasts, the boys seeming to inhale theirs with Roman not that far behind them, whilst she and Gabby ate at a slower pace.

“So what are we going to do for the rest of the day?” Mike finally asked glancing at Toby and then Roman before piercing her with his gaze.

“I’m planning on getting a shower. These two are with their Dad so what do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind if he wants to join us? We’re only going to head into Yabbie Creek to see a movie.” Roman put in quickly.

“Dad..” Toby began.

“Depends on what movie..” Mike said glaring at his brother.

Ella bit back a sigh before she drained the last of her coffee. Gesturing to Gabby she manoeuvred her way out of the booth and over to the counter, paying for the breakfast before Roman could protest.  Turning back to them she saw a reluctant Gabby standing from the bench again and yawning before being followed by Roman and the boys.

“Sorted?”

“Mike is tagging along,” Roman announced. “I’ll send you a text later.”

She nodded at that before turning to her son, “Do you need any money Mike?”

“No, I’ve got my bank card,” he said quickly.

Ella watched them go before she followed at a slower pace heading back home. Freed up from her parental duties she felt suddenly bereft before realising that she could sneak in a nap as well as that shower.  Maybe this was a good thing.  Still, she sobered she needed to do something about Toby before he isolated everyone or got himself in more trouble.