I’d met him a week before, when I was visiting mates in Port Macquarie, and I was already smitten.
A few weeks later, Bryce came to see me, and just six months on we were living together in Melbourne.
The best thing was, my family loved Bryce as much as I did. Bryce and I often drove to Wagga Wagga to visit them and he’d soon bonded with my mum, Nongnuch, dad, Glenn, and my brothers, Pat, then 15, James, eight, and Andrew, six.
James loved playing computer games and Bryce would spend hours on the PlayStation with him.
But 18 months in, something changed. Bryce would often come home in an awful mood and, if dinner wasn’t ready, he’d shout at me.
It soon escalated into violence. Afterward, Bryce would beg for forgiveness and go back to the kind bloke I’d fallen in love with.
In January 2014, after we’d been together six years, I couldn’t do it anymore
‘You’re having an affair!’ Bryce wrongly accused me, before grabbing me around the neck. As his grip on me tightened, I blacked out.
The next thing I remember was waking up with cuts and bruises.
Ringing my mum in tears, I confessed the secret I’d been hiding.
Bryce wasn’t the charmer they thought he was, he was a domestic abuser.
‘We’re coming to get you right now,’ she said.
‘I can’t let the boys see me like this,’ I said, wanting to protect my brothers.
So I went to stay with a friend instead.
All my brothers knew was that Bryce and I had split up. He called and texted so often that I changed my phone number and made a new Facebook account. Not giving up, he emailed me a few times.
You’ve ruined my life, he wrote. But I chose to ignore his messages.
Finally, I felt safe and happy again.
When two-and-a-half years had passed, my time with Bryce was long forgotten.
Then, one evening in June 2016, I saw I had heaps of missed calls from my family.
When I phoned home, my brother Pat answered.
‘James is dead,’ he said.
‘What do you mean James is dead?’ I choked.
'He's been murdered, it was Bryce,' he replied.
At my parents’ place, the reality kicked in. My evil ex had taken my little brother’s life. James was just 16 and dreamed of becoming a pilot or a lawyer. My baby brother had his whole life ahead of him. Nothing made sense. Why would Bryce kill James?
So close, they’d been like brothers.
James had been the only one home at the time so we didn’t know the full details. But over the next few days we learned more.
My parents’ neighbour Wade, who lived in the apartment below, had heard James screaming in distress.
Rushing outside, he saw James running towards him covered in blood.
Wade tried to grab him, but my terri ed little brother slipped out of his hands saying, ‘He’s going to kill me!’
James shut himself in Wade’s apartment, while Wade saw Bryce with a weapon and tried to stop him.But Bryce managed to ee. When Wade returned to his own unit, he discovered James lying dead on the floor. He’d been stabbed around 30 times, including through the heart.
My poor brother had defence wounds all over his hands. I can’t imagine how scared he must’ve been, desperately fighting for his life.
‘Could I have done more to protect him?’ I sobbed to Mum and Dad.
‘It’s not your fault, darl,’ Dad soothed. ‘None of us could have known this was going to happen.’
I moved back home for a while as we tried to deal with our grief together. Then in February this year, Bryce Cliff, 30, appeared at the Wagga Supreme Court.
The jury heard that on the day of the brutal attack, Bryce was captured on CCTV making his way 400km from Wollongong to Wagga.
Once there, he consumed methamphetamine and ketamine. The prosecutor put it to him that killing James was revenge for me supposedly ruining his life.
But in his testimony, Bryce told the court he’d been having a conversation with James when he’d become ‘panicked and confused’ and grabbed a knife from the stove top.
The jury took just three hours to nd him guilty of murder. On May 4, Judge Stephen Campbell sentenced him to 30 years in jail with a non-parole period of 22 years.
It wasn’t closure, but we were pleased to get justice for James. I still don’t know why Bryce did it.
We’ve lost such a precious part of our family. But James’ happy soul will always be in our hearts.
If you are experiencing abuse and need help, call 1800 737 732 (Aus) or 0800 456 450 (NZ).
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.