What if the end of the road is just the beginning?
Four years ago, Dylan and Addie fell in love under the Provence sun. Wealthy Oxford student Dylan was staying at his friend Cherry’s enormous French villa; wild child Addie was spending her summer as the on-site caretaker. Two years ago, their relationship officially ended. They haven’t spoken since.
Today, Dylan’s and Addie’s lives collide again. It’s the day before Cherry’s wedding, and Addie and Dylan crash cars at the start of the journey there. The car Dylan was driving is wrecked, and the wedding is in rural Scotland—he’ll never get there on time by public transport.
So, along with Dylan’s best friend, Addie’s sister, and a random guy on Facebook who needed a ride, they squeeze into a space-challenged Mini and set off across Britain. Cramped into the same space, Dylan and Addie are forced to confront the choices they made that tore them apart—and ask themselves whether that final decision was the right one after all.
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"The road of friendship never did run smooth, is what I'm saying," Marcus tells me, fidgeting with his seat belt."
This is my first experience of a heartfelt apology from Marcus, and so far it has involved six clichŽs, two butchered literary references and no eye contact. The word sorry did feature, but it was preceded by I'm not very good at saying, which somewhat undermined its sincerity.
I shift up a gear. "Isn't it the course of true love that never runs smooth? A Midsummer Night's Dream, I believe."
We're by the twenty-four-hour Tesco. It's half past four in the morning, the air thick with duvet-darkness, but the bland yellow light from the shop illuminates the three people in the car in front as if they've just moved into a spotlight. We're close behind them, both following the slow, rattling path of a lorry ahead.
For a flash of a second I see the driver's face in the rearview mirror. She reminds me of Addie-if you think about someone enough, you start to see them everywhere.
Marcus huffs. "I'm talking about my feelings, Dylan. This is agony. Please get your head out of your arse so that you can actually listen."
I smile at that. "All right. I'm listening."
I drive on, past the bakery. The eyes of the driver in front are lit again in the mirror, her eyebrows slightly raised behind squarish glasses.
"I'm just saying, we hit some bumps, I get that, and I didn't handle things well, and that's-that's really unfortunate that that happened."
Astonishing, really, the linguistic knots in which he will tie himself to avoid a simple I'm sorry. I stay silent. Marcus coughs and fidgets some more, and I almost take pity and tell him it's all right, he doesn't have to say it if he's not ready, but as we idle past the bookie's another flash of light hits the car in front and Marcus is forgotten. The driver has wound the window down, and she's stretched an arm out, gripping the roof of the car. Her wrist is looped with bracelets, glimmering silver-red in the car lights' glare. The gesture is so achingly familiar-the arm, slender and pale, the assertion of it, and those bracelets, the round, childish beads stacked up her wrist. I'd know them anywhere. My heart jolts like I've missed a step because it is her, it's Addie, her eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror.
And then Marcus screams.
Earlier, Marcus gave a similarly horrified scream when we passed a Greggs advertising vegan sausage rolls, so I don't react as fast as I perhaps otherwise would. As the car in front stops sharply, and I fail to hit the brakes on the seventy-thousand-quid Mercedes that belongs to Marcus's father, I have just enough time to regret this.
My head whips up so fast my glasses go flying backward off my ears and over the headrest. Someone screams. Oww, fuck-a pain shoots up my neck, and all I'm thinking is God, what did I do? Did I hit something?
"Shit the bed," Deb says beside me. "Are you all right?"
I fumble for my glasses. They're not there, obviously.
"What the hell just happened?" I manage.
My shaking hands go to the steering wheel, then the handbrake, then the rearview mirror. Getting my bearings.
I see him in the mirror. A little blurred without my glasses. A little unreal. It's him, though, no question. He's so familiar that for a moment I feel like I'm looking at my own reflection. Suddenly my heart's beating like it's shoving for space.
Deb's getting out of the car. Ahead, the bin lorry moves off and its headlights catch the tail of the fox they braked for. It's moving onto the pavement at a saunter. Slowly, the scene pieces itself together: lorry stops for fox, I stop for lorry and behind me Dylan doesn't stop at all. Then-bang.
I look back at Dylan in the mirror; he's still looking at me. Everything seems to slow or quieten or fade, like someone's dialed the world down.
I haven't seen Dylan for twenty months. He should have changed somehow. Everything else has. But even from here, even in half darkness, I know the exact line of his nose, his long eyelashes, his snakeskin yellow-green eyes. I know those eyes will be as wide and shocked as they were when he left me.
"Well," my sister says. "The Mini's done us proud."
The Mini. The car. Everything comes rushing back in and I unclick my seat belt. It takes three goes. My hands are shaking. When I next glance at the rearview mirror my eyes focus on the foreground instead of the background and there's Rodney, crouched forward on our backseat with his hands over his head and his nose touching his knees.
Shit. I forgot all about Rodney.
"Are you all right?" I ask him, just as Deb says, "Addie? Are you OK?" She pokes her head back in the car, then grimaces. "Your neck hurting too?"
"Yeah," I say, because as soon as she asks I realize it does, loads.
"Gosh," Rodney says, tentatively shifting out of the brace position. "What happened?"
Rodney posted on the "Cherry & Krish Are Getting Hitched" Facebook group yesterday evening asking for a lift to the wedding from the Chichester area. Nobody else replied, so Deb and I took pity. All I know about Rodney is that he has a Weetabix On The Go for breakfast, he's always hunching and his T-shirt says, I keep pressing Esc but I'm still here, but I think I've pretty much got the gist.
"Some arsehole in a Mercedes went into the back of us," Deb tells him, straightening up to look at the car behind again.
"Deb . . ." I say.
"I think that's Dylan. In that car."
She scrunches up her nose, ducking down to see me again. "Dylan Abbott?"
I swallow. "Yeah."
I risk a glance over my shoulder. My neck protests. It's then that I notice the man stepping out of the Mercedes passenger seat. Slim-built and ghostly pale in the dark street, his curly hair just catching the light of the shopfronts behind him. There goes my heart again, beating way too fast.
"He's with Marcus," I say.
"Marcus?" Deb says, eyes going wide.
"Yeah. Oh, God." This is awful. What am I meant to do now? Something about insurance? "Is the car OK?" I ask.
I climb out just as Dylan gets out of the Mercedes. He's dressed in a white tee and chino shorts with battered boat shoes on his feet. There's a carabiner on his belt loop, disappearing into his pocket. It was my idea, that, to stop him always losing his keys.
He steps forward into the path of the Mercedes' headlights. He looks so handsome it aches in my chest. Seeing him is even harder than I expected it to be. I want to do everything at once: run to him, run away, curl up, cry. And beneath all that I have this totally ridiculous feeling that someone's messed up, like something didn't get filed when it should have up there in the universe, because I was supposed to see Dylan this weekend, for the first time in almost two years, but it should have been at the wedding.
"Addie?" he says.
"Dylan," I manage.
"Did a Mini really just total my dad's Mercedes?" says Marcus.
My hand goes self-consciously to my fringe. No makeup, scruffy overalls, no mousse in my hair. I've spent bloody months planning the outfit I was supposed to be wearing when I saw Dylan again, and this was not it. But he doesn't scan me up and down, doesn't even seem to clock my new hair color-he meets my gaze and holds it. I feel like the whole world just stumbled and had to catch its breath.
"Fuck me," says Marcus. "A Mini! The indignity of it!"
"What the hell?" Deb says. "What were you doing? You just drove into the back of us!"
Dylan looks around in bewilderment. I pull myself together.
"Is anyone hurt?" I ask, rubbing my aching neck. "Rodney?"
"Who?" says Marcus.
"I'm OK!" calls Rodney, who's still in the backseat of the car.
Deb helps him climb out. I should have done that. My brain feels kind of scrambled.
"Shit," says Dylan, finally registering the crumpled bumper of the Mercedes. "Sorry, Marcus."
"Oh, mate, honestly, don't worry about it," Marcus says. "Do you know how many times I've totaled one of my dad's cars? He won't even notice."
I step forward and check out the back of Deb's battered Mini. It's actually not looking too bad-that bang was so loud I would've assumed something serious had fallen off. Like a wheel.
Before I've registered what she's doing, Deb's in the driving seat, starting the engine again.
"She's all good!" she says. "What a car. Best money I ever spent." She drives forward a little, up onto the curb, and hits the hazard lights.
Dylan's back in the Mercedes, rifling through the glove box. He and Marcus talk about roadside accident assist, Marcus forwards him an e-mail off his phone and I think to myself . . . that's it, Dylan's hair's shorter. That's what it is. I know I should be thinking about this whole car crash thing but all I'm doing is playing a game of spot-the-difference, looking at Dylan and going, What's missing? What's new?
His eyes flick to mine again. I go hot. There's something about Dylan's eyes-they kind of catch you up, like cobweb. I force myself to look away.
"So . . . you're on your way to Cherry's wedding, I'm guessing?" I say to Marcus. My voice shakes. I can't look at him. I'm suddenly thankful for the dented rear bumper to examine on the Mini.
"Well, we were," Marcus drawls, eyeing the Mercedes. Maybe he can't bring himself to look at me either. "But there's no way we're driving this baby four hundred miles now. It needs to get to a garage. Yours should too."
Deb makes a dismissive noise, already out of the car again and rubbing a scratch with the sleeve of her ratty old hoody. "Ah, she's fine," she says, opening and closing the boot experimentally. "Dented, that's all."
"Marcus, it's going ballistic," Dylan calls.
I can see the Mercedes' screen flashing warning lights even from here. The hazards are too bright. I turn my face away. Isn't it typical that when Marcus's car breaks, Dylan's the one sorting it?
"The tow will be here in thirty minutes to take it to the garage," Dylan says.
"Thirty minutes?" Deb says, disbelieving.
"All part of the service," Marcus tells her, pointing to the car. "Mercedes, darling."
"It's Deb. Not darling. We've met several times before."
"Sure. I remember," Marcus says lightly. Not very convincing.
I can feel Dylan's eyes pulling at me as we all try to get the insurance stuff sorted. I'm fumbling around with my phone, Deb's digging in the glove box for paperwork and all the while I'm so aware of Dylan, like he's taking up ten times more space than everyone else.
"And how are we getting to the wedding?" Marcus asks once we're done.
"We'll just get public transport," Dylan says.
"Public transport?" Marcus says, as though someone's just suggested he get to Cherry's wedding by toboggan. Still a bit of a wanker, then, Marcus. No surprises there.
Rodney clears his throat. He's leaning against the side of the Mini, eyes fixed on his phone. I feel bad-I keep forgetting him. Right now my brain doesn't have room for Rodney.
"If you set off now," he says, "then according to Google you would arrive . . . at thirteen minutes past two."
Marcus checks his watch.
"All right," says Dylan. "That's fine."
"On Tuesday," Rodney finishes.
"What?" chorus Dylan and Marcus.
Rodney pulls an apologetic face. "It's half past four in the morning on a Sunday on a bank holiday weekend and you're trying to get from Chichester to rural Scotland."
Marcus throws his hands in the air. "This country is a shambles."
Deb and I look at each other. No, no no no-
"Let's go," I say, moving for the Mini. "Will you drive?"
"Addie . . ." Deb begins as I climb into the passenger seat.
"Where do you think you're going?" calls Marcus.
I slam the car door.
"Hey!" Marcus says as Deb gets into the driver's seat. "You have to take us to the wedding!"
"No," I say to Deb. "Ignore him. Rodney! Get in!"
Rodney obliges. Which is kind. I really don't know the man well enough to yell at him.
"What the fuck? Addie. Come on. If you don't drive us, we won't get there in time," Marcus says.
He's by my window now. He knocks on the glass with the back of his knuckles. I don't roll it down.
"Addie, come on! Christ, surely you owe Dylan a favor."
Dylan says something to Marcus. I don't catch it.
"God, he's an arse," Deb says with a frown.
I close my eyes.
"Do you think you can do it?" Deb asks me. "Give them a lift?"
"No. Not-not both of them."
"Then ignore him. Let's just go."
Marcus taps on the window again. I clench my teeth, neck still aching, and keep my eyes straight ahead.
"Our road trip was meant to be fun," I say.
This is Deb's first weekend away from her baby boy, Riley. It's all we've talked about for months. She's planned every stop-off, every snack.
"It would still be fun," Deb says.
"We don't have room," I try.
"I can squeeze up!" Rodney says.
I'm really going off Rodney.
"It's such a long journey, Deb," I say, pressing my fists to my eyes. "Hours and hours stuck in the same car with Dylan. I've spent almost two years tiptoeing around Chichester trying not to bump into this man for even a second, let alone eight hours."
"I'm not saying do it," Deb points out. "I'm saying let's go."
Dylan has moved the Mercedes to somewhere safer to wait for the tow. I turn in my seat just as he's getting out of the car again, all lean, scruffy, almost-six-feet of him.
I know as soon as our eyes meet that I'm not going to leave him here.
He knows it too. I'm sorry, he mouths at me.
If I had a pound for every time Dylan Abbott's told me he's sorry, I'd be rich enough to buy that Mercedes.
Sometimes a poem arrives almost whole, as if someone's dropped it at my feet like a dog playing fetch. As I climb into the back of Deb's car and catch the achingly familiar edge of Addie's perfume, two and a half lines come to me in a split second. Unchanged and changed / Eyes trained on mine / And I'm-
Reading Group Guide
The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary
1. The Road Trip throws five very different people into one tiny car. Who do you think would be the most awkward people to take a road trip with? And on the flip side, who would be your ideal passengers?
2. Lots of the characters in The Road Trip are in the process of forgiving others—and themselves. Who needs forgiveness in the novel? Who finds it hardest to forgive? And if you were in Dylan, Addie or Marcus’s shoes, would you feel able to forgive yourself?
3. What problems did you identify in Dylan and Addie’s relationship before they broke up? Do you think they could have stayed together if Dylan had listened to Addie’s side of the story that night, or do you think it was inevitable that they would split up at some point?
4. Deb and Addie are always there for one another. Deb says, “Isn’t that how this sister thing works?” What do you think—is that how being sisters works? What does sisterhood mean to you?
5. The novel is split into Then and Now. How does each of the central characters change between the past narrative and the present one? And do you think people really can grow and adapt if they work on themselves, or do you believe a leopard never changes its spots?
6. Getting back together with an ex brings all sorts of challenges. Do you think Addie and Dylan will be able to put their past completely behind them now that they’re reunited? Do you think they should? What are the challenges they will face as they move forward?
7. The Road Trip is a second-chance romance. What is your favorite romantic trope? Enemies-to-lovers, perhaps, or a fake relationship, or a love triangle?
8. Dylan has a very difficult relationship with his parents, particularly his father. How do you think this has affected him? Do you think he will ever be able to build a more positive relationship with his mum and dad?
9. There are some fairly eccentric characters in the novel, from overexuberant Cherry to Kevin the burly lorry driver. Who was your favorite character, and why?
10. Have you ever taken a road trip? Where did you go, and did anyone travel with you?
11. Did you guess that Rodney was on his way to Cherry’s wedding to try to prevent it from happening? How did your opinion of him change throughout the novel, and how do you feel about him now?
12. Toward the end of The Road Trip, Cherry says, “Nobody’s irredeemable.” Do you agree?