They were due home in less than a week and she still hadn’t wrapped her head around how she was going to approach them, deal with them. Should she e-mail them and tell them that she was home and staying with Seb? Should she just wait and rock up on their doorstep? How would they react? What would they say, feel, want from her?
Would they be able to see her as a grown woman who made her own decisions and lived with the consequences thereof? Would she receive any respect from them for doing that? Any understanding? She no longer required them to be supportive of her, of her lifestyle, but she didn’t want to listen to them nag her about settling down, studying further, about her clothes and her hair and her inability to make good choices...
Seb rolled over in his sleep and Rowan watched him for a moment. How would her parents react when they found out about her and Seb? Because find out they would. They weren’t completely oblivious to everything around them, and she and Seb gave off enough heat to generate a nuclear reaction. They wouldn’t understand the concept of a short-term, mutually satisfying sexual relationship. They’d been childhood sweethearts and hadn’t, as far as she knew—and she probably didn’t, because her parents were about as talkative as clams—dated anyone else.
They’d probably worry more about Seb than they would about her. Seb was a part of their lives, a constant presence, while she was their erratic and eccentric wayward daughter.
‘Ro? You okay?’ Seb asked from his massive double bed, leaning back on his elbows, his hair rumpled from sleep.
Gorgeous man, Rowan thought.
‘Mmm, just wrapping my head around visiting the old house.’
‘You still haven’t been over?’
Rowan shrugged. ‘I really should. It’s funny—funny ironic, not ha-ha—that I can walk into a slum in Bombay or a yurt in Mongolia but I haven’t managed to screw up the courage to go home. Every time I think about going over I feel like I’m eighteen again. Lost, alone, scared. I don’t like feeling like that, Seb.’
‘Understandable. Want me to go with you?’ Seb asked, sitting up and crossing his legs. ‘And then if you feel like you’re eighteen you can tell me and I’ll kiss you, or touch you, and remind you that you’re all woman.’
‘Generous of you.’ How did he always manage to make her smile when she was feeling blue? Rowan bundled her hair up, held it on top of her head for thirty seconds before allowing it to fall again.
‘Okay, we’ll go over later. Tell me about your travelling.’
Rowan turned to face him, her back to the window. ‘That’s a pretty broad subject. Narrow it down...’
Seb thought for a moment. ‘Tell me what you love about travelling.’
‘The colour, the wonderful local people, their tolerance; the differences that are wonderful, the similarities that are universal. Buildings, bazaars, street food.’
‘And what do you most hate about it?’
‘Practically? Dirty kitchens and cheap hostel dorm rooms. The constant partying all around. The same questions all the time. “Where do you come from?” “How much of the world have you seen?” “How long have you been travelling for?” “Where to next?” Boring conversations, over and over and over again...’ Rowan hesitated.
‘Tell me, Ro.’
Rowan gestured to the bed. ‘This...’
‘This?’ Seb looked puzzled. He looked at the bed and then turned his gaze back to hers. ‘What?’
‘One of the worst things about travelling is relationships: finding them, keeping them, losing them. I have said goodbye far too many times, Seb. Far more than any person should. Ever. I can go for weeks without meeting another traveller, depending on where I’m staying, because I don’t want to...don’t want to get to know them and then have to wave them off.’
‘Are we talking about friendships or lovers?’
‘Either. Both,’ Rowan said. ‘Saying goodbye always hurts.’
And it will hurt so much more when I have to say goodbye to you, Rowan thought, holding his intense gaze. She knew from talking to other backpackers and from her couple of failed relationships that a relationship limited by time, like hers and Seb’s, was always more passionate than a normal, run-of-the-mill romance in the real world. They both knew that it had to end some time soon, so they had to make every moment count.
It wasn’t real. Or maybe it was too real. It just wasn’t built to last.
It would end with another goodbye. And she already knew that it would be absolutely the hardest goodbye she’d ever have to say.
Seb ran his hand through his very short hair and then over his stubbled jaw. He looked as if he wanted to say something, pursue the subject, but then she saw him retreat. Was he running from the emotion in her voice? From the sentimentality of her words? She knew that he’d never been good at dealing with raw emotion. He preferred to find a rational explanation behind every decision or action. She envied him that ability to be so clear-thinking, so sensible.