Okay, Guidebook Lady. Now what? I pulled my arms into Rowan’s sweater and turned in a slow circle. How was surrounding myself with floral representations of “my people” supposed to make me feel better?
“How’s it going?” I looked up to see Rowan making his way over to me, his grasshopper-long legs carrying him from rock to rock.
“That was fast,” I said. “Did you read the Burren entry?”
“Yes. I’m a fast reader.” He stopped, remaining respectfully outside the circle. “Is it working?”
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “I mostly just feel stupid.”
“Can I come in?” I nodded, and he stepped in, holding out a sunshine-yellow flower. “Here. I wanted to be one of your flowers.” He grimaced lightly. “Sorry. That sounded really sappy.”
“I thought it was nice,” I said, running my thumb over the silky-smooth petals. No guy had ever given me flowers before. Not even Cubby.
I placed Rowan’s flower next to Ian’s, then—because it felt like I should be doing something—I turned in a slow, self-conscious circle, focusing my attention on each flower, one by one.
When I was back to Rowan’s yellow flower, he looked at me expectantly. “So? Anything?”
“Hmm.” I touched my heart lightly. It didn’t hurt any less, but it actually did feel lighter, like someone had slipped their hands underneath mine to help me with the weight. “I actually do feel kind of different. You should try it.”
“Do I have to turn in a circle?” An embarrassed flush bloomed on his cheeks. “Or say their names or something?”
“I think you can do whatever you want. You want some time alone?”
“Yes,” he said resolutely. “I think I’d be better without an audience on this one.”
I stepped out of the circle and headed over to join Ian at the site. The tomb was about ten feet tall with several flat slabs of rock standing parallel to one another to form the walls, another resting on top to create a roof. Ian’s pencil scratched furiously across his notebook. What was there to even write about?
“So . . . this is cool,” I said, breaking the silence. “You said this is where Titletrack filmed their first music video?”
He didn’t look up from his notes. “Right where we’re standing. The quality was so bad. In some parts you can barely hear Jared singing, and the cameraman had a sneezing attack at minute two, but they still got a million views. The song’s that good.”
He dropped his notebook to his side and we stood quietly, the wind at our backs. The Burren felt solemn as a church, and just as heavy. Guidebook Lady’s words broadcasted through my mind. Courage + time = healed heart. Spelled out that way, it all seems rather doable, doesn’t it, chickadee?
That’s where Guidebook Lady was wrong, because it didn’t seem doable. Not at all. Especially not when Ian and I could barely talk to each other without spiraling into an argument. I glanced back at Rowan. He was still in the circle, his back to us.
“So you’re really not going to tell Mom about Cubby,” Ian said, reading my mind like normal. I hated the frustration in his voice—his disappointment always felt heavier than anyone else’s.
I shook my head. I knew Ian might be right. Not telling Mom and then having her find out from someone else was a huge risk. But I hadn’t managed to even tell Lina—how could I possibly expect myself to come clean to my mother?
Ian’s voice rang in my mind. You know what Cubby’s been doing, right? I stepped away from him, unable to say a word.
Maybe some time apart would be good for us.
9:21. I spent a few minutes wandering the Burren, and when I finally got to the car and checked the time, my anxiety spiked to a record high. Had we really been here for twenty minutes?
“Guys!” I yelled, waving my arms at both Ian and Rowan. They were standing side by side at the tomb. How had that thing kept their attention for so long? “Guys!”
Ian glanced over, and I tapped an imaginary watch on my wrist. “We need to go. Now.”
He languidly pulled his phone out of his pocket before he and Rowan began jogging toward me. I hurried around the back of the car, something unexpected catching my eye.
“Oh, no.” The tailpipe now sagged lazily to the ground, the tip completely submerged in a puddle of water. I ducked down to assess the damage.
“Sorry. We lost track of time,” Rowan said, his breath heavy as he splashed toward me. “Good thing I’m a fast driver.” He caught sight of my crouched form. “Oh, no, did the pipe come loose?”
“I think we lost a bolt. We have to fix it before we leave.”
Rowan crossed his arms nervously. “Any chance we could fix it later? I don’t want to risk getting you to the airport late.”
I fought it, but the practical side of me won out. If the tailpipe were to disconnect as we were driving, that would be it. No workable car. No airport. No Italy and no Lina. I had to find at least a short-term solution.
I jumped to my feet. “As long as we can get it off the road, we’ll be fine. What do you have that we could tie it up with?”
Rowan tapped his chin, looking at the bumper stickers as if they might be able to help him out. “Dental floss? I might have a bungee cord somewhere.”
I shook my head. “It has to be metal, or it will melt through and we’ll have to stop and do it again.”
“How about these?” Rowan pulled a pair of headphones out of his back pocket, the cords tangled into a nest. “Aren’t the wires inside made out of copper?”
Ian’s mouth dropped open. “Absolutely not. Those are Shure headphones. They’re, like, two hundred dollars.”
“You’re offering me your two-hundred-dollar headphones?” I asked, shocked. I knew Rowan was nice, but this was over-the-top.
He tossed them to me. “They were a guilt present,” he said, bitterness ringing through his voice. “Divorce kid perks.” His shoulders sagged slightly, and Ian gave him a surprised look, but it was pretty clear Rowan didn’t want any follow-up questions.
It was way too generous of an offer, but I had to take him up on it anyway. I had too much at stake. I gave him a nod of thanks, then dropped down to the ground. “Ian, hold the tailpipe up for me.” He obeyed and I crawled halfway under the bumper, water seeping into my shorts as I felt my way around.
I was used to being the family mechanic. The summer after Walter turned sixteen, my brothers and I had a tire blowout on a freeway near our house. I’d dug out the owner’s manual, and by the time my dad had showed up, I was covered in grease, and the spare tire was on. Unlike school, cars had just always made sense to me—there was something comforting about the fact that the answer was always just a popped hood or wrench twist away.
The underside of Rowan’s car was coated in mud, and it took me way longer than it should have to attach the tailpipe. Nerves were not my friend. What felt like an hour later, I jumped to my feet, anxiety rippling through my center. “Got it. Let’s get out of here.”
“Maybe you should change before you get back in Rowan’s car,” Ian said, looking at my clothes. “You look like a mud ball.”
“We don’t have time,” Rowan said, heading for his door. “Hop in, mud ball.”
I was bouncing around the back seat, trying to ignore the fact that the numbers on Clover’s dashboard clock were moving at warp speed, when Rowan suddenly let loose with a word that sounded mispronounced. “Feck!”
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