As Ollie pulled up outside his house, he reflected on what Poppy had said to him as their session had come to a close. He had to tell Ellie what was going on. But how could he? When he’d told her about the whole thing in the first place, she had slept on the sofa for three days. How could he risk losing everything that made him who he was now for something that might not even stick? He had to wait. He needed some time. He couldn’t do that to Maria.
His four year old daughter never failed to make him smile. At such a young age, she was already extremely witty and knew a lot about the world. Even her teacher was surprised at how bright she was, and how quickly she learnt things. But it wasn’t just what she was taught that she learnt. She was very intuitive and interpreted private situations very easily. She knew something was wrong with Daddy, but, as far as he or Ellie knew, she hadn’t yet figured out what it was.
Most days, Ollie worked from home. He had the job he had wanted ever since he was a teenager. He worked for an advertising company as a designer, drawing mock-ups of potential ad campaigns and posters. His office at the back of the house was covered in his previous work, some things which he liked, but had never made it to print and others which had been highly successful. He called it his motivation wall. The ‘I Can’ wall. He shuffled through some of the papers on his desk and pulled out a sketch for one of the BBC’s latest ad campaigns for BBC Three. He pulled out his watercolour pencils from inside the draw and began to fill in between the lines. He loved his job… Usually. But lately he had felt detached from it all. He found the people at work dull and lifeless, even though before all this has started, they’d been more than charismatic and artistic. Everything seemed… corporate, which was exactly the opposite of what he had thought when he’d taken the job.
“Hello!” Ellie called, as she walked in the front door. Ollie looked at the clock on his computer. It was 5.15 already. Maria had been to science club, so Ellie had picked her up from school. She came in screaming with glee, running into the sitting room and began bashing away on her miniature keyboard.
“You alright?” Ellie asked as she passed his office on her way into the kitchen.
Ollie sighed with an added groan; “Yeah.”
“That sounds positive?” Ellie asked, popping her head back round the door.
“Oh… You wanna talk about it?”
Ollie couldn’t look at her. He not only needed to talk about it. He needed to tell her about it. Everything. But he needed time to find the words first.
“No,” he said with a smile, “It’s fine.”
Ellie didn’t believe him; “Fine,” she replied, disappointment resounding in her voice. She left and went into the sitting room to keep Maria entertained before dinner.
Ollie gazed over the wall again. At the age of twenty-four, he had walked into the industry, spending his time before that working as a street artist and independent web designer. It was a stroke of sheer luck – and to this day he had no idea how he had pulled it off.
“Ollie!” Ellie called from the other room, “It’s risotto for dinner. How much do you want?”
He got up and made his way across the house, leaning against the door frame, watching his wife and daughter roll around on the carpet. He smiled to himself.
“Whatever, I don’t really mind.”
Maria came running up to him, arms outstretched. He took her in his arms and swung her round by her wrists, before sitting her on his shoulders. She was so tiny, she still fit between his shoulders and the ceiling. Ellie shook her head with an airy chuckle and walked through the arch into the kitchen at the other end of the room.
“How’s my favourite daughter, then?” he asked, looking upwards.
“Daddy’s silly,” she replied, laughing hysterically.
Ollie gasped, taking her off his shoulders and holding her out in front of him. He was only thin, but he had surprising upper body strength.
“I’m not silly! Why am I silly?” he asked.
“Because, Daddy!” she cried, wriggling to break free. Ollie set her down and she ran off, laughing, hiding behind her mother in the kitchen.
Ollie slowly followed her, kissing his wife on the cheek and pulling up a seat at the island in the middle of the kitchen. In that moment, everything was as it should be. Not a thought of Dylan or his therapy session even occurred to him. In fact, he didn’t think of it all evening. It wasn’t until he climbed into bed later than night, that the feelings came flooding back.
“Night,” Ellie sighed as she closed her eyes.
Life was good. And yet as he went to murmur “Night,” back the words got stuck in his throat and he spent most of that night staring at the ceiling.