Waking with a jolt, I find Poppy bouncing on the bottom of my bed excitedly. I try to drag myself to my elbows to gaze at her through tired eyes.
She has chocolate all around her mouth, her eyes wide with excitement as I frown at her.
"Poppy, why have you got chocolate all around your mouth?" I panic, visions of my five year old raiding the chocolate cupboard from sheer hunger whilst I slept.
"Aunt Jane said I could have chocolate spread on toast," she said smugly, as I caught her hands, stopping her from potentially falling off the bed.
I look up at the sound of my Aunts voice, to see her standing with a steaming cup of tea in her hands. My eyes fill with tears as she crosses the room, placing the tea down beside me before she pulls me into her arms.
"Are you sad, Mommy? Do you want chocolate spread on toast too?"
Poppy's chubby little fingers wrap around mine as I pull her close to me.
I'd hoped it was a nightmare, that I'd somehow dreamt last night's revelations. But the presence of my Aunt told me otherwise. Her eyes hold my gaze as she strokes my hair, before she turns to Poppy.
"Go and see Uncle Scott in the kitchen. He said you can stay with him for the weekend, if you want to."
Poppy giggles, clapping her hands as she scrambles down from the bed, her little feet pattering down the hallway as she calls for Scott.
"How did you know?" I ask quietly, my lungs aching with every breath. It’s almost as though my body is shutting down, protecting me from the outside world. I feel the mug of tea being pressed into my hands and I sip it gratefully, the sweetness making me wince.
"You need sugar. It's good for shock," my Aunt murmured, before she sat on the bed beside me. "It's uh, all over the news."
I close my eyes, refusing to open them to this world of pain. My aunt squeezes my shoulder, her sigh making me want to weep.
"I can't imagine how you feel, Ava. We were all right there with you. We all believed…" her breath hitches in her throat, and I open my eyes to see her staring at the floor wordlessly.
"That he had changed? That he was a good husband? Me too."
We sit in silence then for a moment, until I hear a rapping on the door downstairs. Scott answers it, because the next voice I hear belongs to my best friend, Sarah.
"Where is she?"
Moments later she’s in my room, arms outstretched as she drags me close, her perfume comforting me as she does. I bury my face into her curls as she mumbles soothingly in my ear.
"I'm here, sweetheart. I'm here."
"I need to know everything, Sarah," I whisper, as she squeezes me tightly.
"Then maybe you should hear from him directly. The tabloids-"
"I'm not speaking to him. I don't give a shit-"
She moves back, her eyes searching mine as I see tears glistening in hers.
"He won't leave until you do. He wants to explain, and he is adamant you hear it from him."
I stare at her in stunned silence, as she turns to exchange a look with my Aunt.
"He's here?" I splutter, unable to believe his nerve.
Sarah wrinkles her nose up in distaste, as she nods.
"Scott has laid into him outside. I'm surprised you didn't hear him."
I drag myself up, showering quickly before I trudge down the stairs, pleased to see Poppy and Scott by the door.
"Hey baby," I smile, as Poppy runs into my arms for a brief hug.
"Scott has promised me I can have chocolate spread on toast every day!"
I look up to see Scott watching me as he reaches out to scoop Poppy up.
I smile gratefully.
"Amanda can't wait," he chuckles, ruffling her hair as she giggles. "Go say bye to Daddy, darling."
He releases her as she skips towards the kitchen, where I realise Roman is. I take a shaky breath, as Scott places his hands on my shoulders. He’s my cousin, but he feels like an older brother. We had become so close over the past decade, and he and his wife Amanda are good friends of ours.
There would be no more us, ours. Nothing.
"You can come and stay with us. We’ll have Poppy as long as you need us to. I'm so sorry, Ava. I'm gutted for you. I want to smash-"
He stops mid sentence, forcing a smile as he holds his hand out to Poppy. I can smell Romans aftershave all over her, and my heart leaps at the familiarity.
"Be a good girl. I love you."
Poppy kisses me lightly on the mouth before waving at me and Aunt Jane, who appears beside me. Sarah stands on my other side, and together we watch Scott and Poppy walk away. I turn to the kitchen, to see Roman staring at me from the doorway, his eyes locking on mine. I swallow as I turn to the others, who are glaring at him angrily.
"If you guys want to go-" I begin, as Sarah shakes her head firmly.
"I'll be right outside. I'll come in when he’s gone."
My Aunt rubs my shoulders, before kissing me on the forehead.
"I'll go. Ring me if you need me, otherwise I'll just come and live here," she warns, before sending a glare at Roman. She kisses my forehead softly, murmuring in my ear.
"You're a lot stronger than you think."
Fresh tears prick my eyes, which are raw and painful from crying so much. I wait until the door closes, and silence fills the air between us.
"Ava, I'm sorry," he whispers, and I stiffen. I can’t even look at him.
"You need to just tell me what happened, and get the hell out. If you want to be here, I'll leave. I don't care which."
He looks stung for a moment, his mouth opening before he closes it, his head hanging low as he sighs. He looks like he hasn't slept, and instantly I feel a pang of concern for him. Habits of being a loving, caring wife.
I walk past him towards the refrigerator, my hands shaking as I pour an orange juice into a tall glass. The cool liquid soothes my sore throat, and I jump when he stands in front of me.
"I'm a fucking fool."
"Who was she?" I ask coldly, walking around the counter to place distance between us. My heart broke when he looked at me, his eyes filled with guilt.
"Her name was Annie. She was someone I met when I was away training."
I stare at him in anger, my fingers gripping the glass so tightly I fear it might break. The images of him with someone else made me want to vomit again, but I somehow managed to push the thoughts from my mind.
"I want facts. How many times. Where. When. Are you in love with her?"
I brace myself for the answers as he snaps his head up to look at me. His green eyes swim with sadness, but I forced myself to be strong.
"I'm only in love with you."
"Ha!" I spat, as he drops his gaze. "I said facts."
He looks like he’s about to argue with me, when I remember something Sarah had said.
It’s all over the news.
I pick up my laptop, which is on the edge of the kitchen table. I fire it up whilst he watches me, as he starts speaking.
"It's been going on for a few months."
I input my husband's name into Google, clicking on the news tab as the images load on the screen.
"Oh, God," I moan, clamping my hand to my mouth.
"She's nineteen. A model. A fucking model."
He stares at the floor as I slam the lid of my laptop shut.
"Well. I suggest you fuck off back to your teenage model, Roman Muller, because I'm done."
"Let me explain!" he pleads, annoyance creeping into his voice.
"No. If you don't leave, I will."
I raise my eyebrows to him as he shakes his head, moving towards me before I hold my hands up.
"If you touch me, I'll cut your dick off," I warn, my voice dangerously calm. He swears under his breath as he pushes away from the counter, storming out as he grabs his car keys.
A fucking model.