I was looking forward to spending my first Christmas with my husband and our newborn baby, but when my hubby suddenly disappeared, I had to turn detective…
By Caroline Hardinges, 35, from Canterbury
I carefully made the finishing touches to the pile of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents and smiled to myself.
My son Alfred, now one, was getting spoilt. There was already a big stack of presents under the tree, and I couldn’t wait to see his face when he woke up on his very first Christmas morning.
“They look nice babe,” my husband James, 29, said as he walked into the living room and admired the pile of pressies.
“I can’t wait for Alfred to see them,” I beamed up at him. At just four months old, I knew Alfred wouldn’t really understand what was going on, but I had made an extra special effort because I was so excited for our first Christmas as a family.
I met James in a nightclub in March 2012. Despite him being a few years younger than me, we immediately hit it off. James was a proper charmer – he was funny, intelligent and warm. We just clicked and I fell for him quickly.
We’d only been together five months when James proposed, but I knew instantly I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We tied the knot in Las Vegas in May 2013, in front of a small bunch of family and friends. We had an amazing time and I spent the whole day feeling more in love with James than ever.
So when we discovered I was pregnant the following year, it was the cherry on the cake. I thought all my dreams had come true.
“I can’t believe I’m going to be a dad,” James said to me when we went for the first scan. When we heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, he gripped my hand tightly.
I silently thanked my lucky stars that I was having a child which such a caring and sensitive man.
Our little boy, Alfred, was born in August 2015. He was a complete bundle of joy and we were over the moon. James brimmed with pride as he cradled his newborn son in his arms and I was so proud of my perfect family.
James took to being a father like a duck to water, he would jump out of bed if Alfred started to cry, and he took every opportunity he could to hold him.
But there was another side to James – he also suffered with depression, and every now and again, he would have a dark day, where I just couldn’t get through to him.
Eventually, he went to the doctors to get help, and was prescribed counselling. I crossed my fingers that it would help him deal with the demons in his head.
As December approached, I began to get more and more excited for Christmas. I wasn’t usually one to get excitable over the festive season, but having Alfred in our lives made celebrating the day seem much more important.
I carefully hung up sparkly decorations, and invited friends around on Christmas Eve for some food and drinks. Snuggling up in bed with James that night, I felt a wave of contentment wash over me.
The next day, I jumped out of bed and started getting the place ready for my parents to come over for dinner.
“Merry Christmas babe,” James said, wrapping his arms around me as I prepared the food. “Come and open your presents from Alfred and me.”
I almost cried when James presented me with a Mulberry purse, expensive perfume and a personalised book filled with all the reasons he loved me. In return I gave him an Armani watch and a framed poem and footprint from Alfred.
“What a lucky girl I am!” I said to Alfred, who was beaming away at me.
“We’re the lucky ones,” James grinned. “Aren’t we son?”
Soon after my mum and dad arrived, we ate a huge Christmas dinner and then settled down in front of the television with a drink. I cuddled up to James but he stifled a yawn.
“I’m knackered babe,” he whispered to me. “I might go and have a lie down for a little while if that’s ok?”
I nodded and James gave me a kiss on the head before sloping up the stairs. After a few hours, it was starting to get dark, so I decided to go and check on him.
To my surprise, James wasn’t asleep, he was lying on the bed with his phone in his hand. Call it female intuition, but I instinctively knew something was wrong.
I snatched the phone from him and saw he was texting a number I didn’t recognise – and there was a picture of a mystery woman posing in a raunchy outfit in the messages.
“What is this?” I asked shakily. I didn’t want to believe James was texting another woman on Christmas Day.
“It’s just a friend,” he answered quickly. “She was just messing around, asking me if I liked her outfit.”
“Oh really?” I snapped, and James kept his head down, not meeting my gaze. “If you’re going to behave like this on Christmas Day then you should probably leave. Just get out.”
James did as he was told, and I went downstairs and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong. But when my parents and Alfred went to bed, James still hadn’t come home and I started to get worried.
Then I had an idea. I grabbed my iPad and clicked into the ‘Find My iPhone’ app. Within seconds it had tracked James’ phone – to an address I didn’t recognise.
I hadn’t had a drink all day so I didn’t need to think twice – I grabbed my car keys and jumped into my car, following the tracking device.
When I pulled up at the house, I hammered on the horn until James sheepishly poked his head round the door.
I could just see a young woman behind him, but she wasn’t the same girl in the steamy text messages.
“How many women are there?” I shouted to James through my car window.
“She’s just a friend,” James started again, but a wave of red mist came over me.
“You must think I’m completely stupid.” I spat, before I sped off. Unsurprisingly, James didn’t come home that night and the next day, Boxing Day, I was determined to discover the depth of his deceit.
I logged onto a dating site where I created a fake profile. I felt the anger swell inside me as I found my cheating hubby on there too. Rat.
A few days later, James returned home, begging for forgiveness. He swore blind he’d never slept with the woman the GPS had led me to, Rachel.*
She was just a girl he had met at work, and he said he’d just panicked over the responsibility of having a family. He also promised to remove himself from all the dating websites.
After a while, I decided to give him a second chance, for Alfred’s sake. It was important to me that our little boy had both his mummy and daddy in his life, and I believed James when he insisted he had made a huge mistake.
But in February this year, my whole world came crashing down again. The doorbell went, and when I opened the door I was gobsmacked to see Rachel standing there.
“James isn’t here,” I hissed as I got ready to slam the door in her face, but Rachel told me she wanted to speak to me.
I listened in stunned horror as she explained she’d been seeing James since the beginning of December, after they’d started working together. They’d even slept together in our spare room!
James had lied to her that we were separated, painting me as the crazy ex. Fuming, I confronted James and this time he admitted everything.
He sobbed that he’d been struggling with depression and that I’d been so focussed on the baby I’d had no time for him. It was completely pathetic.
That was the final straw and I ditched James – for good. Christmas is meant to be a time for family and goodwill, but that turkey wrecked Christmas and my first year with my son, and for that, I’ll never forgive him.
James says: “Even though things seemed perfect I wasn’t happy and couldn’t find happiness. I was suffering with depression. I met Rachel* through work, we got too close for comfort and pushed some boundaries at the beginning of December. After Caroline and I argued on Christmas Day I left and ended up going around Rachel’s. That’s when it all went crazy and it all kicked off. When Caroline came to the house and started screaming I thought things were over so I just stayed there. A few days after that is when Rachel and I slept together. I regret it immensely and if I could turn back time I would. Depression can have these effects. It can make you feel like you need more attention, like everything isn’t enough to make you happy. I’ve lost jobs, happiness, and now I’ve lost the chance to live with my family everyday. The chance to see my son everyday. And the person I truly did love.”