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Zachary took me to JF&S Clothiers to shop for new clothes before we went home. I was in desperate need of a makeover now that I was released. I was older now which meant my old wardrobe just wouldn’t do. I needed a sleeker, more sophisticated look to go with my new status as a mature adult and the mother of two teenaged daughters.

“Do you like this outfit?” I asked Zachary who had been waiting patiently as I tried on almost every single outfit in my size hoping to find the one that suited me the best.

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“Beautiful…” He grinned as the word came out like a whisper and it made my cheeks flush and my mouth dry.

“You really think so?”

“Yes. You look great. Better than before.” A few rapid blinks was all it took for his mood to change, like he had stifled whatever emotions he was feeling and put on a fake neutral smile.

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 I knew all about fake smiles – I mastered them. But why? If he desired me, then why was he hiding it? We were married so he should feel no shame in thinking his wife was beautiful. It had been so long, so many years since we’d been with each other that I couldn’t wait to go home to show him how much I missed him.

“Zach…”

“Let’s pay for your new clothes and then go home. The girls are very excited. Jo called me twice while you were in the changing rooms asking when we’ll be there.”

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“Alright.” I decided to withhold what I really wanted to say, or rather, what I wanted to ask him until later. At the moment, my children were home anxious for me to arrive and I could not keep them waiting any longer.

I apprehensively walked through the front door, the realisation that it had been nine years since I last stepped foot in this place had just hit me. This was my home and now I had finally returned and there were my daughters standing before me whose faces lit up once they realised it was me.

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“Mummy!” Johanna ran towards me and threw her little arms around my neck. She was so big now! They all were. Seeing them in pictures was one thing but seeing them in person was another.

“Oh, Johanna! Look at you!”

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“Everyone calls me Jo, Mum. Nobody except my teacher calls me Johanna.”

“Well, I was the one who named you Johanna so I’ll keep calling you that.”

“That’s fine! We’re glad you’re finally home Mummy!” She squealed. Johanna held onto me so tight that I nearly had to pry her away so I could meet her older sisters.

“Hey Mum!” Isabel came forward and hugged me. “Welcome home.”

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“Welcome home, Mum!” Ivy chimed in before giving me a hug as well. What the heck was she wearing? That hat and those beat up jeans! She was too much of a beauty to wear such hideous clothes! Just because she liked geeky hobbies like playing video games and collecting doesn’t mean she needed to dress like a geek. She probably gets bullied often by other kids at school. I know I used to pick on kids with no fashion sense back in the day so I never thought I would have a daughter who lacked a sense of style. Even though Isabel’s outfit was too eccentric for my taste, she looked more put together than Ivy. I decided I would work on getting her new clothes once I settled in.

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Zachary asked the girls to give us a moment to talk alone. Once they were gone he began, “I made some renovations to the house.”

“Really? Where?”

“Well the unfinished room behind the studio, I turned it into a master suite…for you.”

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“I had no idea what to do with that room. I thought of turning it into another study or activity room, and then I thought of turning it into a spa room. What made you decide to turn it into a master bedroom? There’s already one downstairs, Mother’s old room.”

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“When Izzy and Ivy became teenagers they each wanted their own bedroom so I turned your sister’s room into Izzy’s room and our bedroom into Ivy’s. Their old room will go to Jo when she gets older since she’s already complaining about having the smallest room in the house. I thought we should keep Jo’s current room as a nursery for future generations and when they become children they can move to another bedroom.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, and well I’ll be staying in the downstairs suite. That’s why I turned the unfinished room into a suite for you…”

It felt like a bomb dropped when he said the words ‘I’ll be staying in the downstairs suite’.

Not noticing my reaction, or pretending not to notice, he continued. “…I figure we can keep that room as a sort of heiress suite. So when the new heiress comes of age, she can move in there. It will be something that she can look forward to, you know.”

“Let me get this straight, you want us to sleep in separate rooms?” I asked.

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“I think it would be best given the circumstances.”

“What circumstances? So much time has passed, didn’t you miss me?”

“Of course I missed you! But that doesn’t change the fact that you betrayed me and I haven’t forgiven you for that yet.”

“But it’s been nine years Zachary! Nine years! If you wanted space, you had enough of it!”

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“You were locked away for nine years which meant we had no chance to work on our issues. You monopolized every conversation during our meetings complaining about how you hated it there so how could I possibly talk to you about how I felt? Gemma, I know you’ve decided to change but saying it and doing it are two different things. I need to be able to trust you again and until I do, I can’t share a bedroom with you.”

“So what is this really? You want a separation?”

“No, I don’t want our family to break up. I don’t want a divorce. I still love you but I just can’t… I feel like if I share a room with you, it would be too easy for me to fall back into your arms and forget everything only I wouldn’t truly forget everything and that will only cause more problems for us down the road. Our entire marriage, the last nine years, have all been about you! I need this for me.”

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He was serious about this so I didn’t fight him on it. If he wanted us to sleep separately, then fine. He needed me to prove myself to him, so I will. My marriage and my children were all I had left since I no longer had a career, business or even any friends. I guess he wasn’t wrong for still holding a grudge. I would too if I were in his shoes. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have visited him at all in prison nor would I have let him back into the house and designed a beautiful suite for him to stay in so Zachary actually is quite the angel.

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Prison food was awful that’s why one of the first things I did was cook a delicious gourmet dish. One of my favourite dishes was spinach frittata. Fresh veggies and eggs were a luxury in prison. I think the only times we were served either one was during the holiday season. I missed the smell of gourmet aged cheeses and fresh milk when you whipped them together with some egg yolks.

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Usually eating in the formal living room was strictly forbidden and treated like a crime punishable by me ranting and raving at the offender. However, since it was a special and happy occasion I decided to be flexible. As long as no one got crumbs on the rug of course.

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It was nice having a meal with my family, a meal that I cooked. I felt so relieved being in my house, wearing nice clothes, eating good food and laughing with the people I loved. I longed for this day for so long and I was not disappointed.

But I was worried about my marriage. I missed the way we used to be with each other. I missed how affectionate and loving he was with me. This was the real punishment as far as I was concerned. Being in prison was easy compared to being so close to the man I loved and having him push me away.

This was why I didn’t want to fall in love in the first place! Love hurts, especially when it seems like it’s slipping away.

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