His eyes crinkled at the edges. “People getting married in unicorn costumes, outdoor hot tubs made from old claw-foot bathtubs, rave parties in the forest, a sunken double-decker bus . . . petting zoos made entirely of three-legged animals. That sort of thing. Everyone’s in costume and acting badly.”
Was he joking? He didn’t look like he was joking. Plus, who could come up with a list like that on the spot? I stared at him in horror.
“You hadn’t heard the stories,” he said, his eyes crinkling even more.
This brought the need for secrecy to a whole new level of desperation. My parents would flip. It was one thing to sneak off to see a bunch of no-name sites in Ireland, but it was quite another to sneak away to a wild party. Getting caught would probably require them to come up with an entirely new category of punishments.
“Well, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He laughed at my expression. “Keep your head and you’ll be fine. Is there a particular music act you’re going to see?”
I nodded, regaining my footing. Keep your head. So long as Cubby Jones wasn’t involved, I could handle that. “My brother’s going to see his favorite band. They’re called Titletrack.”
“Titletrack! Their final show,” the woman interjected, clutching her hand to her chest. “You lucky, lucky girl, you!”
I turned to her, aghast. She was a fan? “I love that first song of theirs—Aaron, what’s it called, the one with the music video in the Burren?”
“‘Classic,’” the clerk said. “We’re definitely fans around here.”
“We’re actually on a Titletrack road trip. I just left the Burren.”
“A Titletrack road trip!” She looked like she was about to faint. She yanked on one braid. “What a wonderful idea. Aaron! Isn’t that a wonderful idea?”
“Wonderful,” he replied dutifully.
“Yes, my brother is a huge fan. He’s right . . .” I turned to point at Ian, but the store was empty. “Uh-oh, I’d better go. Thanks so much for the advice.”
“Stay hydrated,” the man called after me as I rushed through the door.
“Take hand sanitizer!” the woman yelled. “And be careful out on the peninsula. Big storm coming today. One of the worst of the summer.”
“Thanks,” I called over my shoulder.
The second I stepped outside, Rowan’s voice punched me in the ears. “Mum, I told you, I’m not ready to talk about this. You said I had until the end of the summer, and that means two more weeks. And if you want to talk about Dad, call him. . . . Mum, stop.” He hung up, then whirled around, his expression leaping with dismay.
My first instinct was to bolt, but instead I stood there stupidly, clutching my cereal box, resting my bare foot on my shoed one. I probably looked like I’d been eavesdropping. I mean, I had been eavesdropping. It just hadn’t been on purpose. And now I was curious. What was Rowan not ready to talk about?
“Hey, Addie,” Rowan said weakly. “Been there long?”
Please say no was written in a thought bubble over his head. I shook my head as I handed him the cereal. “Not long.”
His face drooped sadly. Fix this, my inner voice demanded. My inner voice had a lot to say about other people’s feelings. I looked around, trying to think of a way to lighten the mood. “So . . . remember when I belly flopped out of your car?”
His face instantly brightened. “On average, how many times a day would you say you dive into parking lots?”
I looked up at the gray sky, pretending to think. “Three. Today’s a slow day.”
His smile increased, then he looked down, kicking a rock toward me. “You know, Addie, you aren’t at all what I expected.”
“Hmmm,” I said, folding my arms. He had a slight smile, so I was pretty sure he’d meant it kindly, but I wasn’t positive.
“‘Hmmm,’ what?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “That was one of those compliments that could easily be an insult. Like ‘Did you do something different with your hair? It looks so nice.’ Meaning it looked like crap before.” Rowan’s mouth twitched into a smile. I was talking too much. I steered us back on course. “If you don’t mind me asking, what did you expect?”
His dimple deepened. “Someone more average. I can see why Ian talks about you so much.”
Surprise flooded me. “He told you about me? But I thought you guys didn’t talk about a lot of personal stuff.”
“Just the important things,” Rowan said. “He told me you two are very close. Which is why I’m a little confused that you guys are, uh . . .” He flourished his hand.
“Fighting all the time?” I filled in.
“It was a little surprising,” he admitted. He folded his arms, dropping his gaze down again. “Anyway, I’m glad you came out here, because I have something to show you.” He reached through the window into the back seat and pulled out the guidebook. “While you were in there, I checked the sites against Ian’s map, and a lot of them are pretty close to each other. A few of them even double up with Titletrack sites. And guess what? One of them is on the Dingle Peninsula, which is where we’re headed next!”
He handed me the guidebook, flipping open to an entry marked DINGLE PENINSULA. I clutched the pages tightly.
“What about Ian?” I said, glancing back toward the store. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every time my love life comes up, someone starts yelling.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.” He grinned a cute, lopsided smile that transplanted onto my face. “I’ll handle Ian. Look, I technically could do the guidebook on my own. It’s just that it feels a little . . .” He twisted his mouth. “Pathetic. But if we do it together . . . Maybe it’s dumb.”
“It’s not dumb,” I said quickly. My flower ceremony at the Burren hadn’t exactly been the life-changing experience I’d hoped for, but I did like the thought of having some dedicated time to cope with Cubby. Plus, Rowan was really putting himself out there—there was no way I was going to leave him hanging.
I pitched my tone to sound more enthusiastic. “I mean, why not? Worst case, we see some interesting places. Best case, I leave Ireland with an unbroken heart.” Yeah, right. I didn’t believe it for a second.
His face split into a huge smile. “Thanks, Addie. You work on finding your shoe. I’ll work on finding Ian. I’m sure I can talk him into this.”
He took off across the parking lot at a happy sprint, and I turned to watch him. Was it possible that I’d managed to find the only person in the world who was more heartbroken than I was?
The Dingle Peninsula
If Ireland were a cake, and you the nervous recipient of something coming out of my oven, I would serve you a thick slice of Dingle. Tart, sugary, chewy Dingle.
It’s a combination of absolutely irresistible ingredients—crushed velvet hills, roads disappearing into milky mist, jelly bean–hued buildings crammed together on winding roads—all blended and whipped together into a ladyfinger-shaped peninsula that you’re going to want to dunk into a cold glass of milk.
Now, I know what you’re wondering, dove: What does this idyllic bit of perfection possibly have to do with the pathetic state of my heart? I’m so glad you asked. And, my, aren’t you catching on nicely?