‘I need to earn some money, Seb. Quickly. I hate being...’

Seb waited through her silence, then added his own words. ‘Beholden? In my debt? That’s such crap, Ro. You’re sleeping in a bed that isn’t being used, you don’t eat enough to feed a mouse, and you are housekeeping...’

Rowan looked around at the neat kitchen. ‘I pack the dishwasher and I throw a load of laundry into the machine...it’s hardly housekeeping.’

‘True; any chance of you actually mopping anything?’

‘Maybe.’ Rowan blew a tendril of hair away from her mouth and stared down into her strong tea. ‘Worse than feeling in your debt is feeling that I’m trapped. That I’m in this city, this place, this house, and I can’t leave. It makes me feel...panicky.’

Seb pulled out a chair and sat down opposite her, wincing as he did so. ‘Why? Why is being here so difficult for you?’

‘Because I am so free out there, and when I am free I’m happy. Being here just makes me remember how controlling and protective my folks were, and...’

‘They were trying to protect you, Rowan. From yourself, mostly.’

Rowan sighed. ‘You always defend them...’ She held up her hand to hold off his hot reply. ‘I don’t want to argue with you, Seb. I know that you think that they were good parents because yours—’

‘Mine weren’t. Well, Patch was okay. My mother was a train wreck.’

‘Patch gave you freedom to move, to explore. I was never allowed beyond the walls of our two houses.’

‘They—’

Rowan interrupted him. ‘My point is that whether the ties that bind are silk scarves or barbed wire you still can’t move, and I’ve always had the need to be unconstrained, unfettered...free.’ Rowan sipped her tea. ‘That makes me jittery, but coming home broke just makes me mad. I wanted to show them that I am successful, together...responsible. Not in their way but in my way. Now they are going to hear that I’m broke and homeless, they’ll roll their eyes and launch into one of their what-did-we-do-wrong? speeches.’ Sadness swept across her face. ‘Do you think I could’ve been adopted and they never told me?’

‘Considering the fact that you look exactly like your mum, I’d say the chances are slim,’ Seb said, his tone bone-dry.

‘It’s just that I couldn’t be more different to them if I tried.’

Seb stroked a hand over her head. ‘Different isn’t bad, Ro, it’s just different. I’d like to believe that they’d like to be part of your life but have no idea how to achieve that—especially since you hop around the world like a schizoid bunny.’

Rowan glared at him.

‘Have you ever thought about how scary your life must be to them? To them, going to London was a massive challenge: the crowds, the congestion, the unfamiliarity of a new city. You do that all the time. They would be terrified to live your type of life. They are not as brave as you, Ro.’

She’d never thought about her parents from that angle and she realised that Seb was right. Her parents thought that going to their timeshare unit up the coast was a mammoth undertaking, so going to London would be equivalent to going to the moon. Doing what she did would be, to them, inconceivable.

She understood that. But why couldn’t they understand that while they needed to stay in their cocoon she needed to be free.

‘Why did they go? I haven’t even asked.’

‘Your dad was asked to present a paper at some conference and Peter was going to meet them in the UK.’ Seb wriggled in his chair, winced again, and Rowan frowned.

‘What have you done to yourself?’ she demanded.

‘Tumbled down a hill on the trail run.’ Seb took a sip of his coffee and stood up. Taking a bread knife from the drawer, he lifted the lid off the container holding the cake and cut two healthy slices. Putting them onto the lid of the container, he carried it back to the table and slid the lid between them. Sitting again, he snapped off a square and shoved it into his mouth. ‘Yasmeen’s chocolate cake. God, that tastes good. Who made it?’

‘How do you know I didn’t make it, using her recipe?’ Rowan asked indignantly.

‘Because I’ve tasted enough of your disastrous cakes to last me a lifetime. I don’t think you ever made one that tasted like...well, like cake.’

‘You’re right. I didn’t make it. I found a lovely lady who makes cakes, gave her a copy of Yas’s recipe—’

‘If she finds out, you’ll hang,’ Seb told her.

‘Are you going to rat me out?’ Rowan asked indignantly.

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