The People's Friend

Adventure Of A Lifetime

Travis had travelled the world, yet there was something to be said for coming home, too . . .

- by Teresa Ashby

COME with me,” Travis urged. “It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime.” Rachel tilted her head to one side and her glasses slid down her nose as she laughed.

“Don’t be mad,” she replied. “I’ve just landed my dream job. Why on earth would I throw that away?”

“You’ll get another job when we come back. Please, Rachel, I don’t want to go without you.”

“Then don’t,” she said, her fiery green eyes sparking with challenge. “Stay here.”

“I’ve been planning this most of my life,” Travis reminded her, still hoping he could persuade her. “There will still be reception jobs when we come back.

“It’s not as if your job is anything special. This has always been my dream, Rachel.”

“And working for a solicitor has always been mine,” Rachel replied coldly. “Getting the job at Blackstone and Howell is a dream come true for me.”

It was only later that Travis realised what he’d said and how it sounded.

He’d belittled her dreams and her job and, in doing so, he’d belittled her.

“If you loved me, you’d jump at the chance to come with me,” he mumbled.

“If you loved me, you’d stay,” she retorted.

“Then I’ll go alone. Goodbye, Rachel.”

“Send me a postcard, won’t you?” There was a wobble in her voice and as he walked away he kept expecting her to call him back.

But she didn’t, and when he looked round, she’d gone back into her house.

He was tempted to cancel his plans, but when he got home his mother had been shopping again, buying more stuff for his adventure.

“I’m so proud of you doing this, Trav,” Julia, his mum, gushed. “I wish I’d had the courage to do it when I was young. Is Rachel going with you?”

“No,” he replied shortly. “I’m going alone just as I always planned.”

“I wish you weren’t going alone,” she replied wistfully. “I really hoped she’d go with you.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her.

He knew his mum would never have done such a thing, not even when she was younger.

She disliked travelling, but she had always encouraged him to follow his dream.

His parents dropped him at the ferry port a week later, and right until the moment he boarded the boat, he kept expecting a car to screech up and Rachel to leap out.

He couldn’t believe she’d just let him go like that.

He stood at the rail and waved.

First stop France, then the world!

Travis waited at Chennai airport for his parents. The first he knew of their arrival was a shriek from Julia.

He spun round and, in a moment, he was in his mother’s arms.

She might have been a foot shorter than him, but she could still deliver a hug that made him feel safe.

He fought back tears as his dad stepped forward and hugged him, too.

Travis hadn’t had a hug like that from Eric since he was a child, but he hadn’t seen them for three years and hugs seemed called for.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, his voice cracking.

He knew how much courage it must have taken for his mother finally to get on a plane.

“Don’t thank us.” Julia smiled. “Of course we came. We couldn’t leave you to cope with this alone.”

He blinked back tears and ushered them out of the airport to where Anaya’s cousin waited for them in his car to whisk them to the apartment Travis shared with three other young men.

Rajesh jumped out of his car and greeted Travis’s parents.

“Travis has told us so much about you,” he said. Julia grasped his hands. “We were so sorry to hear about Anaya,” she said.

“It was a shock,” Rajesh replied. “You

will take Travis home with you, but first you must see India.”

The last thing Travis had expected was to fall in love, but that was what had happened when he first set eyes on Anaya.

She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and she had a laugh that wrapped itself round his heart and squeezed.

She was studying at the University of Madras, and as well as being beautiful, she was very intelligen­t.

It amazed Travis that she’d look twice at him, a casual labourer.

When Rajesh dropped them off, he hugged Travis.

“Stay in touch,” he said. “And have a good life. It’s what Anaya would have wanted.”

Travis’s parents were a little dismayed when they saw his cramped apartment.

“Is this how you’ve been living?” Julia said.

“I’ve lived in worse,” he replied.

“Oh, sweetheart. Will you come home with us now? You must be hurting so much over Anaya.”

Travis shook his head. He didn’t want to talk about Anaya, and how his bright, beautiful, always smiling girl had been knocked off her motorbike and killed by a tourist in a hire car.

“I’m not coming home,” he admitted. “Anaya and I planned to go to Vietnam for a few months when she finished university. I’m still going to go.”

“But it won’t be the same,” Julia said. “Without her, I mean.”

“My life will never be the same.” He sniffed.

Eric nodded.

“We’ll arrange to come to see you in Vietnam,” he said.

“You don’t have to do that,” Travis said, touched that he had suggested it. “We want to,” Julia said. He smiled and began to bustle round the flat.

“You can sleep in the room I share with Patrick. Patrick will sleep on the sofa and I’ll go in with Alexis and Oskar.”

“We can’t ask you to give up your room. What will

Patrick think?”

“It was his idea,” Travis replied. “I’ve made some fantastic friends on my travels.”

He looked away and blinked. Fantastic friends and quite possibly the love of his life, now taken from him.

If he’d stayed to be with Rachel, he would have missed out on so much.

Please come home, Travis, the message from his mum read. The world has changed. I’ve never been so scared.

The only other time she’d pressed him to come home was after Anaya died.

Since then his parents had visited him three times.

They’d stayed with him in Vietnam, South Africa and Peru, and his mum said that without the excuse to visit him, she’d never have seen so much of the world.

He’d gained useful skills and met a lot of interestin­g and special people, but his mother’s message came at exactly the right time.

He’d been away for five years.

He was ready to come home.

With an escalating worldwide crisis, he wanted to be with those he loved.

“You need a haircut,” Julia remarked, reaching up to ruffle his hair when she met him at the airport. “But I love your beard.”

“It’s so good to have you home, son,” Eric added.

“It’s good to be home, Dad.”

Eric hugged him and wiped away tears.

“It’s this virus,” Julia said as she handed her husband a tissue. “It just makes you realise what’s important.”

When lockdown was finally announced, Travis was glad he’d come home.

He’d have gone mad with worry about his family if he hadn’t made it back.

Over the months that followed, Julia carried on working at the supermarke­t and Eric set up his office at home.

For the first time in five years, Travis was at a loss to know what to do, but in the end he found plenty to occupy his time.

Using the skills he’d acquired on his travels, he repaired a wall in the garden, sorted out the bathroom plumbing and redecorate­d the whole house.

He went shopping for the neighbours who were shielding, and did a daily prescripti­on delivery for the local pharmacy.

He took on an allotment and kept himself busy.

He didn’t give Rachel a thought until they started to lift restrictio­ns and he walked past the solicitor’s office in town where she worked, and there she was, sitting behind the reception desk.

He’d know that tousled mop of red hair anywhere, but most of her face, like his, was hidden behind a mask.

As he reached out for the door handle, he noticed the sign on the door.

If you have an appointmen­t, please ring the bell on arrival and someone will come to the door to let you in. We are only seeing clients by prior arrangemen­t and would ask that all our clients wear a mask unless there is a valid reason not to.

He withdrew his hand and hurried away. He was being silly. She must have met someone else by now.

Besides, it was only two years since he’d lost Anaya. He hadn’t so much as looked at another woman since then, nor did he ever expect to.

But seeing Rachel made him remember the young man he had been, the one who’d taken off to travel the world with only a sketchy idea of where he was going and what he was going to do.

He remembered her asking him to send her a postcard and realised guiltily that he hadn’t. He’d forgotten about her.

Oh, not right away, but the time had rushed by so fast and Rachel had seemed like a lifetime ago.

Every time he went into town, he looked in the window and saw her.

She never saw him. She was always busy and he was always too scared to try to catch her eye.

It was hammering down with rain as he passed and he stopped for a moment to take shelter under the awning they’d put up to protect their waiting clients.

Very thoughtful of them, Travis thought.

He hoped they’d been good to Rachel and that she was happy.

He glanced in and, as always, Rachel was sitting at the reception desk, glasses perched on the end of her nose over her face mask.

This time she looked up and saw him.

She jumped up and waved, her body language saying she was delighted to see him.

Maybe she’d heard he was back in town and had hoped he’d come to see her.

“Hi, Rachel,” he imagined saying. “I was just passing when I looked in and saw you. I just had to say hello.”

When she opened the door, his courage left him. He was sure her eyes hadn’t been quite so big or quite so green, or her lashes so black and long.

Something happened inside him. He didn’t know what, but it made his heart feel as if it had stopped.

He really hadn’t realised how beautiful her eyes were, how full of warmth and fun.

He tried to say her name, but it came out as a muffled croak.

“Good morning, Mr Perkins,” she said as she stepped back from the door. “Please, take a seat.

“You’re a little early, but Mrs Blackstone will be with you shortly.”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m not . . .”

But her phone was ringing and she hurried off to answer it.

What else could he do but go in? He squelched over to a seat and perched on the edge of it.

Her red hair was heaped on her head and her face mask was pale blue and covered in

wise-looking brown owls.

He noticed the pen holder on her desk was an owl.

He didn’t remember Rachel being particular­ly fond of owls, but then, he hadn’t really got to know her properly in the short time they had gone out together.

She’d been absolutely right not to go with him, and he’d been right not to stay.

Travis’s mask had a blue camouflage pattern.

His grandmothe­r had made them for all the family using up scraps of material from a huge box she’d accumulate­d over the years.

Now the weather was turning colder, he thought it was nice to have the warmth of a mask, whereas it could be quite uncomforta­ble when it was hot.

A woman came downstairs with a man in a suit. Both were wearing masks.

The woman had red hair like Rachel, cut into a sleek bob that moved like a silk curtain.

“I’ll be in touch when we have a date for the court hearing,” she said as her client headed for the door.

“Thank you, Mrs Blackstone.”

Mrs Blackstone spoke softly to Rachel, then looked over at Travis.

Her eyes scrunched up a little.

“You’re not Mr Perkins,” she said.

Rachel stood up.

“He isn’t?”

“No! I’m sorry, sir, but if you don’t have an appointmen­t you shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he got to his feet. “A misunderst­anding.”

How awful to have embarrasse­d himself in front of Rachel.

“Travis?” Mrs Blackstone asked.

He looked at her warily. How did she know his name?

She had green eyes like Rachel, but she wasn’t wearing glasses and her hair was a far fiercer red than he remembered.

“It is you, isn’t it?” she went on. “It’s difficult to tell behind these things.”

She pointed at her mask, which was cream coloured and rather stylish. “Rachel?” He frowned. “What are you doing here, Travis?” she asked. “I’m expecting a client at any moment.” “You’re a solicitor now?” “A paralegal,” she replied. “It’s nice to see you. How are you?”

“I didn’t recognise you,” he said, swallowing dryly.

“Hair straighten­er and contacts,” she said. “It’s amazing what a difference they make. You haven’t changed. Your hair is a bit longer, but you look just the same.”

Another man in a suit came down the stairs and slipped his arm round Rachel’s waist.

“I’m off to court now, darling,” he said. “See you at home later.”

The real Mr Perkins chose that moment to ring the bell and, moments later, Rachel had taken him up to her office.

Travis was left standing there feeling as if he’d been picked up and hurled around by a tornado.

“Are you all right?” the girl behind the reception desk asked.

“I thought you were Rachel,” he said.

“I’m Miranda,” she said. “Look, Mr Perkins is likely to be upstairs for an hour. Mr Blackstone has gone to court and Miss Howell is on annual leave, so I could make you a coffee.

“The rain might ease off if you give it a while.”

“That’s very kind of you,” he agreed.

“There’s hand gel there if you’d like to use it. Do you take milk and sugar?”

She poured coffee from a jug behind her desk.

“Disposable cup, I’m afraid,” she said as she put it down on her desk for him to pick up. “Thanks.” He smiled. “You’re welcome. Mrs Blackstone – Rachel – told me all about you going off to travel the world.” “She did?”

“Well, it was sort of relevant. When I came for my interview, I’d just got back from doing the same thing.

“I didn’t go all over the place, just to Australia and New Zealand, and only for six months.

“It was brilliant. I learned to ride a horse, bungee jump and how to make real Italian ice-cream.”

Travis found himself telling her about some of the things he’d done on his travels.

“It sounds so interestin­g,” she enthused. “I’ve always wanted to go to India.”

“I’d like to go back there one day,” he said. “My parents came over to visit and they loved it.”

Before he knew it, almost an hour had passed and he realised he should leave before Rachel came down and found him still hanging about.

“I should go,” he said. “Thanks for the coffee, Miranda.”

“Thanks for the company,” she said. “It gets quite lonely sitting here by myself all day.

“We don’t get so many clients in now. They do most consultati­ons by video call.”

“And you’re a people person?”

“How did you know?” “I guessed.” He laughed. “I don’t suppose you’d be free for lunch some time. I’d love to hear about your adventures.”

Her eyes widened. “Really? Everyone is sick of hearing about it. That would be great.”

He realised after he left that he had no idea what she looked like behind her mask, and she would be in the same boat.

He wondered if she’d like his beard.

The sadness that had dogged him for the past two years was still there, but it had lifted slightly and his shoulders felt lighter.

“What? Yes! Of course I will marry you!” Miranda gasped.

Travis held her in his arms, hardly able to believe he had found true happiness again.

Whoever would have thought that a global crisis would have led to him finding love again?

He thought he’d found a kindred spirit, someone to talk to, but the minute they sat down to eat and she took off her mask, something changed.

It was seeing her smile. It was so full of warmth and happiness. She’d looked delighted when she saw his beard.

“I love men with beards,” she’d said.

He’d told her about Anaya, then she’d told him about Josh, her boyfriend who had gone travelling with her, but left her when he fell for an Australian girl. He must have been mad! “I’d go to the end of the world with you,” Miranda said now with a laugh. Travis held her tighter. Now that things looked like they might be getting back to normal, they had plans to visit India, to see Rajesh and the rest of Anaya’s family, and also Australia so Miranda could introduce him to the wonders of scuba diving.

Most of all, they were looking forward to setting up home together and planning the family they both longed for.

“I think that’s it,” Travis replied. “We know that whatever else the world throws at us, we’ll be here to face it together.”

“Come on in!” Julia cried the next day, putting her arms around them and ushering them inside. “Let’s toast your engagement.”

Before going inside, Travis looked up at the stars sprinkled across the sky as his breath misted on the frosty air.

He’d travelled thousands of miles in five years, but he felt as if he’d come a very long way since getting home.

He had finally caught up with himself, realised the man he wanted to be.

The bonus was having another woman he loved by his side.

It was going to be a happy new life, he just knew it. ■

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