It was our first date, but David came bearing gifts. Arms laden with two bunches of flowers and movies to watch, he’d even lugged over a DVD player.
‘You said you didn’t have one,’ he smiled. In his early 40s and a proud dad-of-five, I’d met David online.
Soon, we were spending all our time together and within weeks he’d moved in.
He got along well with my kids, Bree, 11, Heidi, 12, Hayden, 20, and Brittney, 24.
Just before Christmas, when we’d been together for six months, we had a huge argument.
Concerned about the behaviour of one of his kids, David had asked for my opinion.
But he didn’t like my response.
‘You can’t tell me how to parent my children!’ he raged, storming out.
My frustration turned to concern when David didn’t come home that night. Or the next...
When he walked through the door four days later, I was beside myself with worry.
‘I’m so sorry!’ he sobbed.
But as we saw in the new year, our arguments returned. Then last May, after one fight too many, I asked him to move out. David took his belongings, but began texting and calling me incessantly.
I love you, he’d write at first, before losing his cool. For three years, I’d been operating a coffee cart, called Missy Moo’s, outside my house.
Knowing that I knocked off work at 11pm, David would turn up.
‘Just leave me alone!’ I begged.
I was scared, but I didn’t tell anyone – not even my closest friends. Calling the cops crossed my mind, but I felt like once I involved them, there was no going back. That was my biggest mistake.
Focusing on my kids, I did my best to move on. With Christmas fast approaching, I had plenty to keep me busy. Usually I’d wait until Christmas Eve to do my shopping, but this year I was more prepared.
Wrapping up presents for the kids, I arranged them under the tree with two weeks to go.
That Sunday, David bombarded me with texts.
For months, I’d been trying to get rid of him. Would he ever stop?
Heidi and Bree were with their dad, Don, so I went over to my friend Davo’s to watch a movie.
As I got comfy on the lounge, my phone pinged.
'I’m at your house and I’m going to prove how much I love you', David wrote.
Turning my mobile on silent, I tried to relax.
A few hours later, I saw my phone flashing.
‘Nicki, your house is on fire,’ my neighbour, Ulyssa, shrieked down the line.
Racing home, just a ve-minute drive away, I tried to stay calm.
But when I saw my house in flames, I fell apart. Ulyssa’s husband, Graham, and our other neighbour, Yeo, had bravely busted inside, searching for us.
‘Thank you ’ I cried, overwhelmed by their courage.
The only blessing was that everyone had been out. What if my babies had been inside? I thought.
The next day, David was arrested and charged with arson after his own kids dobbed him in.
I’d lost all my precious family photos and possessions in the blaze.
Our Christmas tree, along with the presents underneath it, had melted to the ground, and my coffee cart had also been destroyed.
Amazingly, the community rallied, donating gifts for the girls through our local radio station.
Pleading guilty to arson, David Kenneth John Theodossio, 43, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ jail, to be suspended after 15 months.
‘There was an element of vindictiveness in your behaviour. It was clearly motivated by spite,’ Judge Gregory Lynham said.
Taking into account time already served, he’ll be out next March.
Thankfully, my coffee cart was insured and I’m recently back in business.
But nothing will replace the precious memories I lost that night.
While I’m terrified of my ex getting out of prison, I won’t let it get me down.
I’m a fighter and I’ll keep going for the sake of my babies.
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