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I meant for it to be funny, but I heard my mistake the second it was out of my mouth. Ian took loyalty very seriously—just hinting that he was letting someone down was enough to make him snap.

He twisted around. “Right. Because I never care about your feelings. Because I never, ever stand up for you or help you with school or clean up your mistakes.”

My cheeks scalded. Had he just lumped helping me with school in with Cubby? “Did you really just say that?” I demanded.

Rowan verbally threw himself in between us. “Okay, guys. Let’s talk about Titletrack. When they first started out, they couldn’t get anyone to sign them, so they started posting songs online and performing in pubs around Ireland. Eventually, they talked a radio station into playing one of their songs, and it was requested so many times that it ended up on the top ten charts. After that, labels couldn’t ignore them.”

There was a long, awkward pause, but the oddly timed description worked. We weren’t fighting anymore. Ian sank down into his seat, his chin resting on his chest.

Rowan kept going, probably in hopes of squelching another eruption. “And Titletrack’s final concert is in three days. They made the announcement earlier this year and swore they aren’t going to do that stupid thing bands do where they retire and then do a bunch of reunion tours.”

“I hate that,” Ian said, rechanneling his anger.

It was Titletrack’s final concert? This was more hopeless than I thought. “So what does the Burren have to do with anything?” I asked again, carefully.

Rowan valiantly picked up the torch again. “So Ian’s idea—which was brilliant, I might add—is to visit some of those early places that were important to the band and write a piece that culminates at the picnic. Kind of like following their footprints all the way to Electric Picnic.” He paused. “Ian, that’s what you should title it!”

“Hmmm,” Ian said noncommittally.

“Anyway, the Burren is where they filmed their first music video for a song called ‘Classic,’ which is, in my humble opinion, the greatest song in the world.”

“It is,” Ian confirmed. He leaned forward, and his hair fell into a waterfall around his face. “I played it for you on the way to school a couple of times. It’s the one that talks about slippery simplicity.”

I did remember the song. I’d even requested it a few times, mostly because I liked the way the singer rolled “slippery simplicity” through his mouth like a piece of butterscotch candy.

“Right,” Rowan said. “We’re going to document the whole trip, Ian posting pictures to his blog and social media. Then, when it’s all done, he’s going to submit the final article somewhere big.”

“Maybe I’m going to submit it somewhere big,” Ian said quickly.

“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?” Rowan’s voice sounded incredulous. “If you don’t, I’ll do it for you. Your writing is definitely good enough, and I have a whole list of Irish music magazines that would go crazy over it.”

“So this is like serious fanboying meets research trip,” I said. Each new fact pushed me a little closer toward hopeless.

“Exactly.” Rowan punched the air enthusiastically. “And your aunt’s wedding? Best coincidence to ever befall planet Earth.”

Ian smiled at Rowan, his anger forgotten. Zero to sixty, sixty to zero. It could go both ways. After a lifetime of fights, I should be used to it, but it still caught me off guard sometimes. Especially now, when I’d thought we were headed for another grand mal fight, like the one at the cliffs. “I couldn’t believe it,” Ian said. “I mean, what are the odds of me being in Ireland during their final concert?”

For Ian? High. Life liked to make things work for him.

I crumpled into the back seat, resignation settling over me in a fine layer. Ireland was enchanting, Rowan was Ian’s best friend soul mate, and Ian’s favorite band was doing a once-in-a-lifetime show. I’d lost before I’d even begun.

I curled up tightly, hooking my arms around my knees. “I need you guys to be really fast at the Burren. And, Ian, did you cancel your ticket to Italy?”

Ian started to look back but caught himself halfway. “No, but I checked with the airline. They’ll just give my seat away when I don’t show up.” He had enough compassion to keep the victory out of his voice.

Italy and Lina reached out, warm and inviting. Sunshine, gelato, art, scooters, spaghetti, my best friend. I closed my eyes and clung hard to the image. Leaving Ian in Ireland wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but maybe it would be good for us. The next hour couldn’t go fast enough.

“Fine,” I said, falling back dejectedly against my seat. “You win. You always win.”

The Burren

Ah, the Burren. An Bhoireann. The place of stone. Arguably the most desolate, bleak, miserable excuse of a landscape that has ever graced God’s (mostly) green earth. An early admirer said, “There isn’t a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man, nor soil to bury a man.”

You’re going to love it.

But before this love affair begins, let’s start with a little Irish geography. Three hundred forty million years ago, the Emerald Isle looked a tad bit different than it does today. Not only were there no pubs or Irish preteens scouring Penneys department stores, but it was covered by water—a great big tropical ocean, in fact, that was absolutely teeming with life. Animals, fish, plants, you name it, all paddling around snapping at one another in certain barbaric bliss. But as every Disney movie has taught us, at some point those creatures had to die (usually horrifically and in front of their children), and as their bones gathered at the bottom of the ocean, an ancient primordial recipe was put into action, one that can be roughly summed up in the following equation:

bones + compression + millions of years = limestone

And that’s exactly what was formed. Limestone. Ten square miles of it, in fact. And once it was done with its stint as the ocean’s floor, that limestone came rising to the surface, forming the bleak, unique landscape your plucky little feet are standing on today. Which brings me to another equation, not entirely related but helpful all the same:

courage + time = healed heart

Spelled out that way, it all seems rather doable, doesn’t it, chickadee? I mean, the fact that you’ve somehow managed to get yourself to the Emerald Isle lets me know we’re all good on the courage bit. And as for the time bit? Well, that will come. Minute by minute, hour by hour, time will stretch and build and compress until one day you’ll find yourself standing on the surface of something newly risen and think, Huh. I did it.

You’ll do it, buttercup. You really will.

HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: See those wildflowers popping up from amongst the stone, pet? Don’t worry. I’m not going to make an overworked point about beauty in pain. But I do want you to pick a few of those, one for each of your people. And by “your people,” I mean the ones you can count on to stand by you as you wade through this. Put yourself in a circle of them and draw on their power. Be sure to pick one for me.

—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition

“WHAT AM I LOOKING AT exactly?” I asked as Rowan eased into a sticky parking lot. The Burren was less landscape and more hostile takeover. At first it was subtle, a few flat rocks cropping up in the fields like gray lily pads, but slowly the proportions of stone to grass increased until gray choked out all the cheery green. By the time Rowan slowed to pull over, we were engulfed in cold, depressing rock. A sign read POULNABRONE.

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