(Dream Riders Romance)

I knew we were doomed when he uttered those dreaded words ‘…take things to the next level’.

The next level?! Wasn’t the level we’d been at – for quite some time, admittedly – more than sufficient? What was this obsession with new levels? Were we living in a video game? What was so bloody good about the next level anyway? To me it implied hard work and unattainable goals. I mean, this was a relationship, not a mountain climbing expedition, ffs.

No, I was perfectly content right where we were, thank you very much. Dinner, cinema tips, cheeky texts, and the occasional weekend away in Brighton or the Brecon Beacons were good enough for me, and no amount of sincerity in those baby blues blinking at me expectantly after he proposed that we move in together or get a cat together or bind ourselves together for the rest of all eternity – I’d kind of blanked out on the specifics after hearing those heart-stopping next level words – was going to convince me otherwise.

Which is how I found myself at Victoria Station at 4.30 the next morning rushing past up-early travellers looking bright and cheery at the anticipation of a weekend’s adventure ahead and up-late party stragglers avoiding eye contact and reeking of regret as they waited for the first train home. My well travelled, hastily packed backpack was reassuringly heavy on my back, much needed caffeine fix burning one hand through a ridiculously large paper cup, ticket clutched in the other as I scanned the boards for my platform and ignored the 15 missed calls and countless texts from Theo that had arrived on my phone since I’d left him open-mouthed and baffled in the Taste of India just hours before, somewhere between the papadums and the passanda. Which, annoyingly, I’d really been looking forward to, as my still empty and grumbling tummy could attest.

“The train about to leave platform 14 is the 04.35 Gatwick Express,” a Mr. Bean sound alike informed me over the announcement system, and I rushed along with several others towards the designated platform, hot coffee spilling over my hand as I launched myself into the waiting train. I plonked myself breathless into a seat in a thankfully empty carriage, just seconds before the doors beeped and closed behind me.

I sipped what was left of my Americano and felt the tightness in my chest loosening as the train sped across the inky Thames and into the dark-cloaked autumn countryside. As we left London behind I gazed out the window at the nothingness and despite being zonked from no sleep and too much caffeine I actually felt my breathing calm down. That is, until my phone bleated in my pocket, Theo’s confused face immediately popping into my mind, reminding me that I had some serious explaining to do. I might be a commitmentphobe, but I’m not completely heartless – I do realise that my actions, or reactions, are not that of a normal grown up. I would most definitely find a good explanation for my rather sudden ending of our dalliance – I reasoned with myself as I pulled my phone from my pocket – just not right now. My finger hovered over the red symbol to decline the call, only realising at the last minute that the name on my screen wasn’t in fact Theo after all.

“Hey Cindy,” I answered, knowing that if I didn’t she’d find a way to track me down until she’d spoken to me. Plus, I couldn’t deny she was good in an emergency.

“Evie, sweetie. Talk to me,” she answered.

“Why are you even awake Cindy? You don’t do before midday. Ever.”

“I make exceptions when my bestie texts in the middle of the night to say she’s running away to another country.”

“You weren’t supposed to see that until I’d at least landed and got some sleep.”

“Well, clearly spirit had other ideas,” she said, “as they woke me to tell me something was up. And don’t roll your eyes, it’s true.”

“I’m not rolling my eyes,” I said, looking around guiltily to check for hidden cameras.

“If you flight is at 6, that doesn’t give us long. Give me the short version.”

“Ok,” I sighed, draining the last drops of cold coffee from my cup and already wishing I had more. “I’ve been feeling creatively stifled for a while, and last night at dinner with Theo I just had this realisation that I need to get out of London. It’s not inspiring me any more. So I broke things off with him and booked a little holiday.”

“Translation – Theo either proposed to you, asked you to move in with him, or said the L word and you freaked out and booked a one way ticket to Barcelona.”

How could I argue with that? She was spookily accurate.

“Evie, I have no problem with you ending the relationship, you were never a match neither astrologically or energetically, but is running away from your whole life – again -really the answer?”

I felt indignation rise inside me as I pictured her snug in her bed, masses of red hair floating around her on the pillow, last night’s makeup smudged around her green eyes, casually dissecting my life.

“It has nothing to do with astrology or energy, I just realised I didn’t really fancy him anymore. Or maybe ever. And I’m not running away, I’m getting away. Clearing my mind. And when did I every run away before? If you’re referring to when I broke up with Ned and left Devon that was different – I just wanted to see more of the world and that year travelling America was just too good an opportunity to miss. And leaving America for London had absolutely nothing to do with Brett asking me to marry him, I just missed PG Tips.”

“Hun, that’s an awful lot of travelling for a barely twenty one year old. Listen, be mad at me if it helps but I’m not gonna lie to you about what I see, you know that.”

I did know that. I hated her, but it was also why I loved her. I huffed silently.

“I just wonder if maybe whatever you keep running away from is actually inside you. In which case it will catch up to you eventually. That part of you that you try to hide from everyone who gets close to you, you can’t hide it from yourself. Just know, I’m always here.”

“Cyn, I love you, but you’re talking crap. I have my art stuff in my bag and I’m going to go and paint Barcelona in the autumn, something I’ve always wanted to do, that’s all there is to it. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Now I’m nearly at my stop, I have to go.”

“Ok love, just call me when you’re there. And remember what I told you – you’re in a nine year, new beginnings. I don’t think you’ll be home in a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months – this is the start of a whole new cycle for you. Embrace it.”

That time I did manage a smile as I rolled my eyes and said goodbye, pocketing my phone and standing as the train pulled in Gatwick.

Cyndy was a complete kook, she believed in every nutty crazy thing out there, pushed every boundary she came up against, carved her own path, stood out in a crowd – deliberately. She was my complete opposite, and the only constant in my life.

Yes, I was completely normal, I affirmed to myself as I meandered through the airport towards security. Normal as normal comes. The same words that had been my mantra since I was 5 years old and had discovered my magic powers, and then discovered how lonely it felt to be different. Cyndy was completely wrong – I could hide that part of myself from others if I tried hard enough and kept moving.

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