“So . . . you’re sure you guys are okay?” Rowan asked the quiet car.
“Rowan, we’re fine.” My voice came out more forcefully than I meant it to, and a shadow covered his face. Ian shot me an annoyed look. Poor Rowan. He hadn’t asked for this. I straightened up, swallowing my tone. “Sorry about that, Rowan. Thanks for filling us in on the history. So what’s this next Titletrack stop about?” I snuck a glance at Ian’s map. “Slea Head?”
“Ah, this one’s kind of brilliant,” Rowan said, doing the double-handed-glasses move. “When Titletrack first started, they signed with a tiny record label called Slea Head Records. It doesn’t exist anymore, but the place it was named after does. It also happens to be one of my favorite places in Ireland.”
“Because of Irish camp, right?” I said, to prove that I had been listening to his monologue.
“Right.” He beamed.
The road led us through town and onto a windy road that thinned until we were sandwiched between a hill and a cliff. Thick, fluffy fog billowed on the road, and the ocean all but disappeared into the distance. We kept traveling farther and farther out onto the peninsula, and just when I thought we’d drive straight into the ocean, Rowan bumped off the road, stopping at the base of a steep hill where a goat trail snaked its way up to the top.
“Here?” I said.
“Here,” Ian confirmed, his knee starting in on one of its specialty spastic dances.
“Too. Much. Wind,” Rowan grunted, struggling against the door. Finally, he managed to pry it open, dousing us all with a salty spray of rain.
“Please tell me we’re not going out there,” I said, but Ian was already scrambling over the console, following Rowan out into the mist, and I followed quickly behind. It’s not like the situation inside the car was much drier.
Outside was wet and freezing, and the view was even more intense. The water shimmered a deep turquoise, and a thick afghan of clouds rested on gently sloping hills. All the colors looked oversaturated, especially the green. Before Ireland, I thought I knew what green was. But I hadn’t. Not really.
“This way,” Rowan said, pointing to the unbelievably slippery-looking goat trail. It rose up a steep hill, disappearing into the mist. Ian bounded forward without a second of hesitation, Rowan close on his heels.
I may as well have been climbing up a sheet of glass. My usually lucky Converse sneakers were completely useless in this situation, and I ended up on all fours, digging my fingers into the mud and pretending not to notice slugs nestled in the grass.
Up top, Rowan was waiting to haul me up the last few feet, and I stumbled, finally upright, onto the grassy clearing. Nearby, smooth black rock plunged into the water at a forty-five-degree angle, the ocean wild and frothy in front of us.
“People surf here!” Rowan yelled to us over the wind. I looked down in disbelief, watching the water throw itself against the cliff. He shrugged. “Extreme people.”
“Good thing Aunt Mel didn’t see Slea Head; she would have moved her wedding here,” I said to Ian, but he was bent over his notebook again, scribbling furiously through the rain.
I stepped toward the edge, the wind blasting me like a challenge. “Careful,” Rowan said.
I extended my arms out wide, feeling the way the wind fought and supported me at the same time. Rowan grinned, then mimicked my stance, the two of us standing like Ts, spray hitting us full force.
He touched the tips of my fingers with his. Rain speckled his glasses. “I feel like we should yell.”
“Yell what?” I asked.
“Anything.” He took a deep breath, then let out a loud “Harooooo!”
“Harooooo!” I echoed. My voice sailed out over the water, overlapping with Rowan’s. The sound made me feel alive. And brave. I wanted to feel this way all the time.
“What are you guys doing?” Ian dropped his notebook and stepped next to me, the wind whipping his hair into a frenzy.
“Yelling,” I said.
Rowan pointed his chin to the curtain of fog. “Know what’s out there?”
“The Loch Ness Monster?” Ian guessed.
“America,” Rowan said. “This is the westernmost point of Ireland. It’s the closest you can get to the States while still being in Ireland.”
I squinted out into the horizon. America. No wonder I felt so good here. There was an entire ocean between me and my problems.
Ian bumped his shoulder into mine—intentional or not, I didn’t know—and for a second the three of us stood there, the wind pushing as hard as it could and us pushing back. Together. For one second, I imagined what it would be like if this were real life. Me and Ian against the pressure of everything back home.
I wanted this to be real life, not a detour.
The summer had been full of detours, usually of the nocturnal kind.
It was just after eleven p.m. when I snuck out the back door, creeping through the yard and running down the sidewalk to Cubby’s car. His face shone blue, lit up by his phone in the dark, and his radio played softly. I slid into the passenger seat, quickly pulling the door shut behind me.
“What would your brother think of you sneaking out with me?” Cubby’s voice was its usual laid-back drawl, but a thin line of nervousness etched the surface.
“Ian? Good question. Are you going to tell him?” I asked, pointing my finger at his chest.
“Nope,” he said, grinning.
Ian didn’t know I was out. He also didn’t know about the postpractice drive Cubby and I had gone on, or how during the drive Cubby’s hand had just casually made its way over to my knee, as if that was where it had always belonged. And I didn’t push his hand away either. I wanted it there.
There were a lot of reasons I wasn’t going to tell Ian, but the main one was this: Over the past few years my brother’s voice had taken on a specific quality whenever he talked about Cubby. Like he’d just taken a bite of bitter chocolate. And tonight was not about Ian’s approval or disapproval. It was about me.
Me and Cubby.
“You’re sure you want to stay here?” Ian asked skeptically. We sat parked in front of a peeling, burnt-orange building that looked more like a prison than a hostel. Chains tethered the wrought-iron furniture to the porch, and bars lined the windows. “Are they trying to keep people out or in?”
“I think it looks nice,” I said. “Very . . . homey. Authentic.” Rowan and I exchanged a look. It had taken some convincing to get Ian to agree to stay in Dingle overnight. He’d wanted to keep going, but our guidebook stop was at a place called Inch Beach, and this was not exactly beach weather. There was also the minor issue of hypothermia, which was starting to feel like more and more of a possibility.
There was still one problem, though: Dingle was in high tourist season. And that meant no vacancy—except for the Rainbow’s End Hostel, whose way-too-cheerful, Flash-heavy website claimed to ALWAYS HAVE AVAILABILITY!!!! Now, having seen the hostel and all of its charm, I understood why.
“Somewhere over the rainbow,” Rowan deadpanned. “How Irish is that?” He took the key out of the ignition.
“Come on,” I added. “Anything has to be better than driving in that storm.”
“And you get to work on your article,” Rowan joined in. “I’m sure you have plenty of material after visiting the Burren and Slea Head.”
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