“No, tell me what you’d do differently.”
“I don’t know. Give me a chance to think about it.”
We’re sitting in a pub in the south of England and I can’t help thinking about Brody’s and comparing it in pros and cons to where we are. The place we’re currently sitting in has a wonderful outdoor garden and live music, which could liven up Brody’s. Dylan is leaning on the table, studying me, seemingly more than a little interested in my ideas of improvements for the bar he worked at for most of his adult life.
“Sounds like you’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
Yes, I’ve been thinking about it. Most nights we’ve spent in the UK has involved a pub and any fellow Aussies we’ve bumped into – of which there are many, and every night I’ve found myself comparing where we are to the bar back home. I’ve seen some things that could take Brody’s from a popular bar to one that’s in a league of its own.
“I don’t know why you’re so interested. Are you planning on implementing any of these changes when we get back?”
“I’m just a manager there, Claire. And I don’t know if Rufus will want me back.”
“From everything you’ve said, he’d be crazy not to. You’re one of Brody’s biggest assets.”
Not that I could handle him going back and flirting with anyone in that place for the sake of business anymore. But I wouldn’t have to worry about that now that we’re getting married.
Nerves and excitement blend in a potent cocktail that makes my stomach backflip.
Dylan wants to marry me. For the past month, I’ve been walking on air, and it doesn’t seem like I’ll stop floating anytime soon. My friends called me out for not having enough fun months and months ago, but I’m not that version of myself anymore. It took all my courage to leave everything behind; my job, my friends and family, but where I’ve landed with Dylan…I’m having the time of life and I’m not sure why I’ve resisted it for quite so long.
Taking this chance with Dylan is as if I’ve jumped out of that aeroplane again and this time I’m taking the time to look around and enjoy the scenery while I challenge the limits of my life. Playing it safe led to many failed relationships and a boatload of misery. If I’d been happy, it wouldn’t have made sense to follow my heart, but I hadn’t been happy. I’d been so busy trying to control the outcome of my life that I’d lost sight of why I was doing it all in the first place.
I’d been so caught up in what I wanted that I didn’t see I was living a life I didn’t want. More importantly, I’d ignored my desire for the man in front of me and tried to replace it with desire for something material. None of the men I dated would have made me happy long-term.
“I’m pretty awesome,” Dylan says, smirking at me before his expression changes. “He really wanted me to buy the place from him.”
“Well, it’s something to think about.”
Dylan’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, making me giggle.
“Is it really that much of a crazy suggestion?”
Dylan’s told me how much money he has saved in the bank. I’d nearly fallen over at the time. So many times I’d thought him reckless and frivolous in the past. Perhaps that was because of my desperation to push down my feelings for him and to make sure I never wished for something I couldn’t have. Whatever my reasons, I didn’t see him properly in those days. Not only is he a hard worker, and an excellent manager – reliable and good at his job, he is also a saver like I am. True, he’d been saving for this world trip, but he knew how to put the coins away.
“Is it crazy? Maybe not. I just thought…”
“I thought you’d think that’s money better spent on a house.”
As little as three months ago, I might have agreed, and I might have said that it is money better spent on a house. But travelling with Dylan, following my heart and doing things I’ve never done before has me seeing my life through a kaleidoscope. Instead of seeing things in black and white, I see colours and possibilities.
Brody’s isn’t the house I’ve always dreamed of, that’s true, but it would be…well, if I went in with him, it would still be something I could call mine.
And isn’t that what I’ve always wanted? Something I could call mine and do with what I wish?
I thought the only way to attain that feeling was to buy a house, but buying a business is a way of putting down roots. And buying Brody’s wouldn’t just be about having something I could call mine – I’d be ensuring jobs – ensuring my own. It would create a security of its own.
Oh, I’m not getting lost in the glamour of it. It would be hard work and I have no idea if it’s possible – if the bank would even look at the two of us as a good prospect, but between us, we could put forward a hefty deposit.
And that would mean I won’t have to go back to the bank. I didn’t realise until I left just how much working in that place took out of me. Now whenever I think of going back it actually makes me feel anxious.
The idea of working at Brody’s, however, or taking on a business, building something and working with friends…I like the idea. A lot.
“I think that buying Brody’s could be a good move for both of us.”
“Wait, you’re thinking both of us owning it?”
I frown. “Well, I think we’d have a better chance of being accepted for a loan if we go in together. Besides, you’re talking about us getting married, right?”
He takes my hand in his. “Yes, but…what about your house?”
I shrug. “A house is just a house.”
“Don’t say that. I know how much it means to you.”
“How much it meant to me.”
Dylan means more, which is why I took this trip with him in the first place. And seeing all these places – I’m beginning to develop my own understanding of what Dylan says about life being so short. There are still so many places to go, things to experience.
“I wanted a place I could call my own. Maybe it could be a bar instead of a house.”
“You want to get married and have children. Owning a bar might not be suitable if that’s the life you want. And it is the life you want, isn’t it?”
He’s being logical and practical, I suppose. Strangely, the more he protests and tries to convince me it’s not what I want, the more the idea grows on me. He’s right to be practical about raising a family while owning a bar, but surely it isn’t impossible.
“I want a family, definitely. And I still would like to buy a house sometime. I’m just saying it’s a possibility. I want you to be happy, and I love Brody’s. It’s an idea.”
“I guess it’s something to talk about.”
Merging our lives together, we need to create a vision of the future – something that’s right for both of us. As life goes on, that vision might change, but right now the idea of buying Brody’s sits well with me. I can see Dylan working in that bar, doing what he loves while I work there and focus on the family the two of us would create.
Am I being practical? I’m not sure. For the first time in a long time, I’m dreaming about a future without putting limits on it. And that feels pretty damn good.
“Hi, Claire. You’re up early.”
I frown at the way Kara emphasises my name and speaks so loudly.
“Do you have someone there with you?”
“What? Someone here with me? No, why would you ask that?”
It’s so obvious she does, I find myself laughing. Kara broke up with her boyfriend, which I’m happy about. The guy seemed like a douche and Kara sounded less and less happy the longer the relationship went on. I don’t know if she’s seeing someone else, or if this is just a one night stand. Whatever it is, I hope Kara is happier. Seeing my happy-go-lucky friend nose-dive into misery was heartbreaking.
The fact I’m in another country has led me to feel more than a little guilty. I’d only been gone for three months at the time of Kara’s breakup, and even though there was plenty more we’d planned to see, I was concerned enough to toss around the idea with Dylan of going home early. Of course Kara told me she was fine and begged me not to cut my trip short, but I’ve been checking in on her every couple of days lately.
“What are you up to then?” I ask.
“Oh, not much.”
“It’s a Saturday night, shouldn’t you be out with the girls?”
“Danni is busy tonight, and so is Tori.”
“So it’s just you at home?”
“If you’re alone, why did I just hear a male voice in the background? And why on earth does it sound like Austin?”
“Your brother? What would he be doing here on a Saturday night? You know he has a girlfriend. Austin and I are just friends.”
It so is Austin! Kara didn’t deny it, and her comment about them being friends was too much of a high-pitched protest for me to believe my friend meant it. There was always something between my friend and my brother. Kara should have given up trying to convince me otherwise a long time ago.
“Whatever you say, Kar.”
“How’s Dylan?” Kara asks, changing the subject.
I look at the man sleeping in the hotel’s king bed we’d splashed out on after traipsing through backpacker hostels for the past month. The depth of love I feel for the man is insane, and the way my body shivers in memory of his touch as I look at him is astounding. I can’t wait for him to wake up so we can make love all over again.
“He’s good.” He’s great. I’m so in love with him.
Kara doesn’t need to hear that, though.
“Have you guys talked about what happens next? I mean, when you come home.”
Clearly, Kara is trying to keep my mind off Austin being there, but that’s fine. Kara is never going to talk about what is happening while Austin is actually there.
“We’ve talked about it, yes. I suggested to him we buy Brody’s.”
“Do you think you will?”
“Maybe. We’ll have to look at everything when we get back – the finances, practicalities and logistics – but it’s on the table. Once we’ve paid for the wedding, of course.”
“Right. Any ideas on where you want to get married?”
“Not yet. That’ll be something I’ll enlist your help with when we get back. The only thing we’re sure of is that you’ll be my chief bridesmaid and Austin will be best man.”
I couldn’t help but slip that one in there.
“Right,” Kara says.
“Think it’ll be okay?” I ask. “Since you’re friends now and all.”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“No reason. So everything’s all good there?”
“Absolutely fine. No need to worry at all. I’m just happy you’re happy. And I’m looking forward to seeing you.”
And when I get home, I’m going to have a strong word to Kara about Austin – make sure my friend is really okay. Because as much as I’m certain there’s something going on between the two of them, and Kara is smitten with my brother, Austin is crazy about his celebrity girlfriend. The last thing I want is for Kara to nose-dive into misery all over again because of Austin.
“I never thought it would work out as well as it has with you and Dylan,” Kara says.
“Same. But he’s…perfect. Perfect for me.”
“You never would have said that a year ago.”
“You’ve become quite the rule breaker, and it suits you.”
I know my friend is talking about the number one rule Dylan gave me when we first got together. Don’t fall for me, he’d made me promise. It had been too late for me to promise that. And as it turned out, following the rules is never quite as much fun as breaking the ones that were broken all along.
A/N: You’ve reached the end of the book – my first full-length novel on this new platform. Thanks so much for taking the time to read.
What a crazy year this has been. I hope you’re staying well and taking care of yourself and those you love.
All my love,
LoveEpicLove (aka Elle)