“I’m missing Dylan. It’s Sunday afternoon and it feels so strange to not have him here.”
It’s no surprise that my mother misses Dylan. Anyone who knew him would miss him.
“Well, for me it’s a relief he’s gone. I don’t miss his big brother act.”
Actually, I’d do just about anything to have him back in the country, acting like Austin’s watchdog again, but my mother doesn’t know about the relationship I had with her favourite non-son.
Mum shakes her head, her mouth tightening. “Claire, come on.”
“What? You know we used to get on each other’s nerves.”
Mum sighs and puts down the wooden spoon she was using to stir the pot in the kitchen. “Were you ever going to tell me you were seeing him?”
I put the vegetable knife I was using down to stare at my mother. “How did you know?”
“How did I know? Really? I know my daughter. At least I thought I did. I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me.”
“Dylan was worried about how you’d react.”
That seems to upset my mother further.
“I’ll admit I would have been concerned about how his leaving to go on this trip would work out for the two of you, but I still can’t understand why neither of you said a word.”
“We didn’t need to. You knew anyway.”
Austin’s voice echoes down the hallway a second before I hear the front door click shut. The moment my brother walks into the kitchen, I know my mother didn’t figure it all out on her own. Mum definitely would have said something before now if she’d known.
“You told her.”
Austin kisses Mum on the cheek before walking over and hugging me. “Don’t be mad. I was worried.”
He sneaks a piece of carrot off my chopping board, even as I try to shoo him away.
“You had no right. I told you exactly what was happening between Dylan and me. I told you I pursued him. There’s no reason to be worried.”
“Claire, I saw the look on your face that last night at Brody’s. It broke my heart.”
“Bullshit. Kara told me how you reacted to the photos of that chick with Dylan.”
I pick up the knife and start chopping again, taking out my anger at my brother on the vegetables. “When did you speak to Kara?”
“I bumped into her down at the shops.”
“Great. Why don’t we discuss this thing between you and Kara, and why she never agreed to go out with you. She never told me you asked her out.”
“We’re not talking about me and Kara today.”
“Why? You want to talk about me and Dylan.”
“Honey, you can’t expect us not to worry about you,” my mother says. “It’s clear you’re hurting.”
Putting the knife down once more, I turn around and take in my mother and brother’s concerned faces. Why does this feel like another intervention?
“Really? Because I thought having the man you’ve been in love with for so many years leave the country would be a pretty big deal.”
I can only gawk at my mother. Kara knew how I felt about Dylan. My friends all knew. And my mother knew. How come I didn’t know until recently?
Self-preservation. That’s the only excuse I can come up with.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“I didn’t think you were ready to see it or hear it. You were protecting yourself and your heart, and I understood it even if I didn’t like it. So I stood back and watched you date those dull and boring men. I watched you try to find happiness with them when it was obvious there’s only one person your heart wants. You’re such a strong, driven, determined woman, but stubborn to a fault. I’m so surprised but happy to hear you finally put your fears aside so you could fully experience the love that’s been growing in your heart all these years.”
“But now he’s gone and I’m here.” And it hurts.
“Because you let him walk away.”
“I didn’t have much choice.”
“There’s always a choice, Claire.”
“You know he’s always wanted to take this trip. He doesn’t know if he’s even coming home. He wants a life with freedom and no responsibility. The complete opposite of what I want.”
“Before you followed your heart, I might have agreed. But you’re braver than you give yourself credit for. The fact you took that chance says you’re open to the possibility of a relationship with him. And I don’t doubt Dylan’s feelings for you. I think you just have to give him the chance to see he wants the same things you want.”
“What if that doesn’t happen? I don’t know how I’m supposed to make this work. If he comes home, he’ll be bored and restless. Which leaves me where? I can stay here and hope he realises he wants to come home and settle down eventually, or am I supposed to give up everything I’ve been working towards to follow him?”
“You’ve been in love with him since you were sixteen, baby girl,” my mother says softly. “Isn’t he worth more to you than some silly house?”
Everything in me screams yes, but my mother’s words poke at the rawness inside me. My mother, Austin, and my father are as different from me as Dylan is. I’ve always felt like the black sheep of the family – the different one – and being reminded of it like this hurts.
“I know it’s just a silly house to you, but it isn’t to me. I hated every move we made growing up. I hated that we never put down roots, and now you think I should give up my dream of having my own home – somewhere I can stay and not have to move from. Somewhere I can put my things and not worry about leases and my parents’ itchy feet. You’ve made it perfectly clear over the years that you’ve never approved of my need for security, but just because you don’t approve of it doesn’t mean it isn’t important to me.”
Mum’s sigh is full of frustration. “How can you be so smart and so dense all at the same time?”
I feel the insult all the way to my knees. My face flushes and tears blur my vision.
My mother crosses the kitchen and puts her finger on my chest. “I’m not saying you should give up on that dream, honey. But security doesn’t come from what you have. It comes from in here. It’s who you are, not what you own. When are you going to get that?”
I open my mouth and then close it again.
“I know you’re desperate to create the life that your father and I never gave you, but don’t let our mistakes – my mistakes – stand in the way of living the life you were born to lead.”
My mother’s eyes are shiny as they stay locked on mine. “Maybe as a mother I was selfish to move us around so much. Each time, I thought my reasons were valid, but I know you hated the lack of permanence in our life. Looking back, I bitterly regret some of the moves we made and how they affected you. More than anything, I hate that you’re about to let go of the only man you’ve ever loved because you don’t want to recreate the life you lived with me.”
“I feel like this moment needs a family hug,” Austin says, lightening the mood. “Chase family on three. Ready? One, two, three, Chase.”
I smile as Austin walks up and wraps his arms around me and our mother. The emotions I’ve been trying so hard to hold back since Dylan left are pouring out of me, but, for the first time, having my family with me makes me feel like I don’t have to hold it all in.
“We love you so much, Claire,” Mum says, her voice raw and affected. “We’d never want to see you unhappy, and if you decide to stay and move on, we’ll do our best to support you.”
“For what it’s worth, though, you’ve loved that boy since he came into our lives and I can’t imagine you ever loving anyone else the same way. We just want you to be happy. Whatever that means for you. You need to decide what will make you happiest – looking for someone else, staying here and waiting for Dylan, or going on your own adventure and following him.”
The thought of leaving everything I know behind is terrifying. Even contemplating it makes my heart race and adrenaline rush through my system, making my mind spin and my body restless. It’s like standing in that plane again, getting ready to jump. But I jumped with Dylan, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
So many of the best experiences of my life has been with Dylan.
“You could always go for a short time,” Austin says.
“I’m not sure the bank would let me go for months,” I say. “I might have to give up working there. And then I wouldn’t have a job to come back to.”
“Your experience would never see you unemployed,” Mum says.
“And you could always get a bar job at Brody’s,” Austin says.
That is true. I could imagine them taking me on.
“I’d eat through my savings, though.”
My brother shrugs. “Savings can be rebuilt. Jobs can be taken. Buying a house can be postponed.”
I wonder if my family is the only one in the world who would actually encourage me to chase a man halfway around the world on an adventure.
As if my mother knows what I’m thinking, she reaches out and takes my hand. “Think about it. There’s no need to make a decision now. I’m just asking you to weigh the pros and cons and think about what it is you want and what it is you need. And if there’s any way to have both of them, make it happen, Claire.”
I thought about what it is I want all through dinner. Then I thought about it during the whole drive home, as well as how good dinner was tonight. Funnily, spending time with Austin and my mum was different after our conversation earlier. Something changed. Not only did I feel like I understood my mother and brother better, but I felt like they understood me better, too. And for the first time in a long time, I felt much loved.
Of course I’ve always believed my family loves me, but tonight I dwelled on just how much I love them. As much as the three of us moved around when we were younger, Mum and Austin were always there for me. If I left to follow Dylan, I know my family would be here for me when I got back. As would my friends.
I am so out of it, thinking about the future and my family that I don’t realise my phone is ringing in my bag until I get home and see all the missed calls from Dylan.
Immediately worried there is something wrong, I call Dylan back.
“Hey, you’re alive. I worried when I couldn’t get a hold of you.”
“I’m fine. I was just having dinner with Mum and Austin.”
After the way we left things last night, I can understand why he might be worried. We’d crossed the line of friendship last night. Did he want to try to set things straight between us or continue the flirting we started last night?
Work out what you want and need and make it happen.
I’m terrified that what I want and need is Dylan – that he’s all I’ve really wanted since I was sixteen. Maybe I don’t need him to survive. I could stay in Melbourne and move on. Correction: try to move on. Even if I don’t fall in love with someone else, I could keep working towards the goal of buying my house. But I’d be so much happier working towards that goal with Dylan.
And how do I know it’s an impossible goal unless I go for it? While I’m more than a little nervous about leaving everything I know behind, I feel more excited the more I think about it. What I don’t know is if Dylan still wants me to travel with him.
If I do this, I’ll be taking the biggest risk of my life. Of course it could end badly. Dylan may never want to come home. It may not work out between us. I might waste all the money I’ve saved. The ‘what if’s are endless. But I want to try. Sleeping with Dylan and pursuing him in the beginning was a risk, but one I would never take back and never forget. Just like jumping out of that aeroplane.
Dylan was there to keep me safe last time. Do I trust him with this?
“How are Diana and Austin?”
“I was talking to them about the idea of quitting my job and meeting up with you somewhere.”
“Are you serious?”
Well, talk about take the plunge. I probably could have eased into it a little more. Gosh knows, I could have waited to see whether he reverted to friendship or flirting, but I’ve been playing it straight with Dylan since I propositioned him and I’m not going to start playing coy now.
“Yes. I’m thinking about it. If you still want me to, that is?”
I didn’t realise I’d been holding my breath until he gave me his response and the air rushed back into my oxygen-starved lungs.
“You really want me to?”
“What do I need to do to convince you? I can’t think of anything I want more than that. Well, except having you here with me right now. Hell, I’ve been thinking all day about cutting my trip short – maybe finishing up here in New Zealand and then coming home for a while before going away again for a few months.”
“Of course. I know we said goodbye when I left, but it’s not over for me, Claire. You’re all I think about. You’re all I want. I’m willing to do anything to make this work with you. I don’t want Dylan 2.0 swooping in and sweeping you off your feet before I get back to you.”
“Trust me, that’s not going to happen. You’re the only man I want.”
The only man I’ve wanted since I was sixteen.
“I’m the only man you want, too?”
“Haha. You’re the only woman I want. You know I’m crazy about you, right?”
No. No, I didn’t know that, but I’m so glad to hear it. I’m terrified of what I’m about to do – of all the things that could go wrong. I’m scared of winding up more in love with a man who doesn’t feel as much for me as I feel for him. But knowing I’m not alone – knowing that Dylan has my back as much as he can – makes my resolve to jump that much stronger.
“Lana was here this afternoon and I was telling her how much I miss you – how I’m crazy about you. How I’m in love with you.”
My lungs are suddenly oxygen-starved again. “You’re in love with me?”
“I’m crazy in love with you. I can’t think of anything but you. I’ll do anything for you, Claire. Including coming home.”
I close my eyes, knowing just what that means to him. Knowing what it means to me and for our relationship. He’s prepared to compromise and sacrifice, and so am I. We can meet in the middle. There’s a chance this might work after all.
It’s all the more reason to jump. “I love you, too. I think I always have, and that means I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to come home before you’re ready. I’m sure I can take some time out to travel with you. Then maybe we can come home?”
“You know your timeouts are my favourite kind of timeouts.”
I can hear the smirk behind the words. “Will we have time for that and all the sightseeing you have planned?”
He chuckles. “We’ll make it work.”
I believe him.
A/N: This scene with Claire, Austin and Diana was one I really enjoyed writing. There’s something very personal about it for me. I hope you enjoyed reading it 🙂