The following evening Ben and Ruby went to
Hannah ‘s. He stayed behind reconciling
inventory when he heard the front door open.
He glanced up to see Ruby standing in the
doorway to the living room, her face twisted
“She ‘s going, ” she said.
“She ‘s leaving next week! ” she ran across the
room into his hands, pressing her face into his
He closed his arms around her and cupped the
back of her head with his hand.
“Its okay, Rubes. ”
“I don’t want her to go.”
He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t make
promises on Hannah’s behalf. He had no idea
when she planned to come back, or if she
planned to come back at all. He suspected
Hannah didn’t know herself. That was part of
the appeal of the open road.
He heard the sound of the front door opening
again and a couple of seconds later Ben entered
the living room, Hannah hard on his heels. She
looked stricken where she saw Ruby in his
“Oh, man, ” Ben said
“She ‘ll be alright, ” Joe said to Hannah. “I think
you just took her by surprise. ”
“I wish I could stay, sweetheart. But this is
something I ‘ve dreamed of doing ever since I
was your age. I ‘ve been collecting maps and
tourist guides for years. Look, its not like I will
be gone forever. I ‘ll come back. My mom lives
right next door — I have to come back or she ‘ll
He glanced down and saw that Ruby was
smiling a little now.
“Will you send me postcards? ”
“Every week,” Hannah said. I promise.
Ruby walked across the room and wrapped her
arms around Hannah ‘s waist, laying her head
against Hannah ‘s hip. “Its going to be weird
Hannah blinked rapidly. “Yeah.”
Joe became aware of Ben standing to one side,
the expression on his face an odd mixture of
envy and scorn as he watched Hannah
embrace his sister. Joe had a sudden memory
of Beth sitting on the couch, Ben snuggled in
her arms as she read him a book. She ‘d been
warm and affectionate, kisses and cuddles
before bedtime, tickle wrestling on the living
Ben missed being held by his mother, just as
Ruby clearly craved a woman ‘s touch. For a
moment Joe felt very heavy with regret. There
were so many losses he could never hope to
replace, too many gaps in their lives for him to
even come close to filling them all.
“I was thinking that maybe before you go I
could go for a ride around the block on your
bike, Ruby said.” She kept her voice clearly
innocent, but she was asking.
“You are such a baby, Ruby. No way is Dad
going to let you go on a motorbike, ” Ben
“It was worth a try.” Ruby ‘s grin was cheeky.
“Yes, it was,” Joe agreed. “Now who wants a hot
chocolate before bed? ”
“Me.” Ruby said, twisting away from Hannah
and racing for the kitchen. Ben followed suit.
Joe looked to Hannah. “Can we tempt you?”
“Thanks, but I ‘d better go. Maybe another
“Sure. He followed Hannah to the door.
“I ‘m leaving next weekend. Saturday
A long silence ………
“I ‘d better go, ” she said.
When she turned away, her movement were
jerky, almost as though it has taken an effort to
drag herself away.
He closed the door after her, staring at the
wooden surface blindly.
One more week, then she ‘d be gone.
The following friday night, Hannah checked her
camping gear one last time. Her mother stood
to one side of the garage, arms crossed tightly
over her body.
“I can’t believe you’re really going. You’ve
talked about this for so many years, and now
this is finally it, ” her mom said.
“What time are you leaving tomorrow? ”
Her mother pressed her lips together, but
Hannah could see she was close to tears.
“Mom, I ‘ll call every week, I promise. ”
“Alright. I know. Its just going, to be lonely
without you here.” She sighed. “Is anything
happening with Joe or not? ”
“He ‘s got two kids to consider and I ‘m hitting
the road. What do you think? ”
“I think you should hang around and see what
“I can’t. What if it does not work out again?
What if I ‘m not the woman Joe thinks I am or
something else goes wrong? Am I supposed to
pick myself up and dust myself off all over
“You’re scared. ”
“Of course I ‘m scared. I ‘d be silly if I wasn’t.
We’re supposed to learn from past mistakes,
aren’t we? ”
Hannah ‘s mother smiled sadly. “Loving
someone is always a risk, sweetheart. That’s
why its so exciting and terrifying all at the same
“Right now I ‘m willing to pass on the
excitement if it means I don’t have to put up
with the terrifying. ”
“If you could see the way Joe looks at you when
you’re not watching ……..”
Hannah ‘s chest tightened. She took a deep
breadth. “Mom, I don’t want to talk about it. I
‘ve made my decision, I ‘ve said my goodbyes. I
‘m leaving tomorrow. ”
Her mother flinched and Hannah knew she’d
hurt her feelings.
“Okay. Well, I ‘ll leave you to it and I ‘ll see you
in the morning. ”
“Its okay, Hannah, I understand. ”
Hannah kissed her good night then her mother
disappeared into the house and she was once
She checked a few more last minute things
then went in to the house. Satisfied she had
everything in order, she crawled into bed. She
rolled onto her side and stared into the
I wish he ‘d never kissed me. I wish he was just
a man with two kids and a dead wife who
happened to live next door. She thought …..
But Joe had kissed her, and he ‘d become more
than her neighbor. A lot more.
“So silly, ” she muttered.
Eventually she fell asleep but woke up with her
stomach tense with nerves and she had to force
herself to eat a decent breakfast. As ten o ‘clock
drew closer she grew more and more nervous,
her gaze darting to her watch every few
Ruby had made a point of saying she’d be over
at ten to see her off. Hannah was dreading
saying goodbye to her little buddy. She was
also terrified Ruby would be accompanied by
her father. She didn’t trust herself not to say or
do something embrassing and revealing. Like
throw herself at him and ask him to tell her to
She was in the garage when Ruby appeared,
Joe was with her, and Ben. A lump formed in
the back of Hannah’s throat.
“Hey, ” she said. Somehow her voice sounded
“We bought you a going away present, ” Ruby
“You didn’t have to do that. ” she looked to Joe,
Joe lifted a shoulder. “Don’t look at me. It was
Ruby and Ben’s idea.”
“Here, ” Ruby said, holding out a neatly
wrapped parcel. She moved closer and Hannah
could feel the little girl watching and waiting for
her reaction. Hannah eased the tape free of the
paper and saw what they bought her : a pair of
beautiful leather motorcycle gloves.
“Thank you. These are wonderful. ”
Ruby looked at her brother. “You were right, ”
she said, resigned. She turned back to Hannah
to explain. “I wanted to get you perfume but
Ben thought you’d prefer these.”
“Perfume would have been lovely but these are
perfect, Ben. Thank you.”
“It was just an idea, that’s all.” Ben said with
“A great idea. I love them. They’re miles better
than my old gloves.”
Hannah sank to one knee and opened her arms
and Ruby stepped into them for one last hug.
Ruby sniffed and nodded her head. With a sigh
she stepped back, using her forearm to wipe
Hannah glanced at Ben but his body language
told her he wouldn’t welcome a hug the way his
sister had. She held out her clenched hand
instead and they bumped fists.
She flicked another look at Joe. He was staring
at the ground. There was no way she was
hugging or kissing him in front of the kids.
Because she didn’t know how to say goodbye to
him, she zipped her jacket and reached for her
“I guess I ‘d better get this show on the road.”
Hannah flexed her hands in her new gloves,
smiling to show Ben and Ruby how much she
She was aware that she and Joe had barely
exchanged a word. She had no idea what he
was thinking or feeling, if the uncertainty and
regret she felt was one sided or shared.
But she’d made her decision. As she’d told her
mother last night, she wasn’t prepared to
gamble with her heart again. There was nothing
to do but look forward.
Hannah turned the key to start the bike, she
twisted and the bike rolled out of the garage
and into the street. She paused for a moment,
one foot on the ground, and glanced over her
shoulder. She lifted her hand in a last farewell.
Her mother came out of the house, mopping at
her tears with a wad of tissues. Ben stood off to
one side, a frown on his face. Ruby had turned
her face into her fathers belly, her arms
wrapped around his waist. Joe’s attention was
on his daughter. He didn’t so much as glance
She turned away eased the bike off down the
street. She told herself not to look back again,
but she couldn’t resist a glance in the rearview
Her mother was turning towards the house, but
Joe and Ruby and Ben still stood watching her.
For the first time she saw emotion on Joe’s face
— disappointment, frustration, regret. Then the
road demanded her attention and she turned
the corner and they were gone.
Joe went over and over those last few minutes
with Hannah during the following weeks. He
should have said something. Given her his best
wishes. Made a joke, at the very least. Instead,
he’d stood there and let her ride away.
He told himself it was for the best. Safer. Easier.
But when he came home at night and saw the
garage door open, he remembered what it had
been like to feel how soft her skin was and how
kind she’d been to his children.
For the first time in two years Beth was absent
from his dreams. There was only Hannah, her
body firm and warm under his hands, her taste
in his mouth. Teasing him, then walking away.
Or staring at him expectantly, waiting for him
to say or do the one thing that would make her
The first postcard arrived on the wednesday
after she left. Hannah wrote that the weather
was fine. She missed Ruby and her new gloves
were the best she’d ever owned. Lastly, she
asked Ruby to say hello to everyone for her.
Ruby read it aloud three times before mounting
it on a bulletin board on her bedroom wall.
The second postcard arrived a week after the
first. Ruby pressed another pin into the map
and taped to the board in her room.
Joe told himself that soon he would stop
thinking about Hannah. They’d had one date
and shared a handful of kisses. It was silly to be
so hung up on someone and something that
had never really happened.
But it seems he was destined to be silly. He
wanted her, and her being gone didn’t seem to
make a Damn bit of difference to that fact.
Three weeks after her departure from home,
Hannah stood on a beach in the Northern
Australia. A strong breeze blew her hair off her
face and pressed her clothes against her body.
She told herself how lucky she was to be here,
seeing this, experiencing this moment.
After a few minutes, she started back to the
campground where she’d pitched her tent last
night. The beach would soon be filled with
tourists and locals. If she wanted to, she could
put on her swimsuit and take a towel and a
book down to the water to join them. There was
no work to get to, no one else’s needs or desires
to consider. She could lazy the day out but the
problem was, she didn’t want to. She’d woken
this morning with Joe’s face in her mind and
her hands clenching the the fabric of her
sleeping bag. This was supposed to be her
dream, but every day she’d had to remind
herself how lucky she was, how beautiful the
landscape was and how much she looked
forward to finally seeing all the places she’d
circled on the map over the years.
Her heart wasn’t in it. That was the truth of the
matter. Her dream had changed.
Her heart was back fixed on a tall, dark haired
man with sad eyes and the most incredible
smile in the world.
Every postcard she’d sent to Ruby had taken
her hours to compose. She’d told Ruby about
her adventures and the people she’d met. And
all the while, the only thing she wanted to write
was : Does he miss me? Does he think about
me? Does he feel the same way I do?
She stared at her campsite — the tent, bedroll,
sack of clothing. She thought about the years
she’d planned this adventure. Then she knelt
and began to pull the tent pegs from the
ground. Within twenty minutes she had the
tent packed away. Half an hour later her goods
were once again strapped to the back of her
motorcycle. She didn’t look back as she rode
out of Townsville Australia
The following evening Ben and Ruby went to