“True,” Ian admitted. “It would be nice to keep up on my writing. That way it isn’t a huge job at the end. Plus, I need to post to my blog.”
“Perfect! Let’s go,” I said. Half a day in Clover, and already every bit of me ached. I couldn’t get out of the back seat fast enough.
For someplace named Rainbow’s End, the interior was surprisingly lacking in color. All except for brown. Brown floors, brown carpet, brown linoleum, and a brass light fixture missing two out of five bulbs. Even the smell was brown: a mixture of burnt toast and the lingering of a pot roast.
I made my way up to a rickety wooden desk. Papers cluttered its surface, and a cup of coffee sat on top of a grubby three-ring binder.
“Hello?” I called out. Brown swallowed up my voice.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is here. Maybe we should try somewhere else,” Ian offered.
“There is nowhere else. Believe me, we tried.” I bypassed the desk and headed down a dark hallway. Light trickled from underneath a door. “Hello?” I called, pushing it open slightly. “Anyone here?”
A guy with a mass of curly white-blond hair sat playing a video game, his dirty feet propped up on the table in front of him. A large pair of headphones encased his ears.
“Excuse me?” I reached out to tap his shoulder, but just before I made contact, he whirled around, crashing noisily to the floor.
“Are you okay?” I scrambled to help him up.
“Okay? Not terribly.” He yanked the headphones off. He was in his late teens or early twenties, furiously tan, and built small and muscular like a rock climber. His accent was decidedly not Irish. Was it Australian? British? He smiled wide, and his white teeth contrasted sharply against his tanned face. “How are you going?”
How are you going? What was the correct answer to that? Good? To Electric Picnic?
He didn’t wait for me to figure it out. “So sorry about the mattresses. I know they’re utter crap. But I guess that’s why we have such an affordable rate. And be honest, you didn’t come all the way to the Emerald Isle to sleep anyway, right? You’re here to explore.”
I raised my eyebrows, completely lost. “I think you’re mistaking me for someone else.” Someone he’d spoken to before.
His eyes widened. “Oh, no. You aren’t with the German group, are you? Forget what I said about the mattresses. Sleeping at the Rainbow’s End is like sleeping on a cloud.” He sang the last part.
“Nice save,” I said. “Do you have space for three people?”
He clapped me on the shoulder. “Didn’t you see the sign? We always have availability. I already told you about the mattresses, but let me sell you on the good parts of our humble Rainbow’s End. We have a killer nightlife here. Party out front after dark every night, heaps of people, amber fluid, everything you could ask for.” He winked, erasing my ability to tell if he was joking or not. “I’m Bradley, by the way. Welcome to the Rainbow’s End, the most westernly youth hostel in Europe.”
“I’m Addie.” I shook his hand. “You didn’t by chance write the content on the website, did you?”
He bobbed his head enthusiastically. “That I did, Addie. That I did. Built the whole thing in forty-eight hours. That thing is pretty bodgy, but it does a lot of my work for me, which means I get to spend my afternoons surfing. ”
“Do you surf at Slea Head?” I asked.
“What kind of crazy do you think I am?” He folded his arms and gave me an appraising look. “Why do you look like you floated here? You weren’t out walking in the storm, were you?”
“Driving. Our car isn’t waterproof.”
“Ah,” he said, like he knew all about it. “I’m not supposed to let anyone in until after evening, but this looks like an emergency. You could use a hot shower.”
“Yes, I could,” I replied gratefully.
He grabbed a grimy white binder from the table and began flipping through pages full of names and phone numbers. The hostel’s record book, I assumed. “Where are you from?”
“Seattle. Well, that’s where my brother and I are from. The other guy we’re with is from Dublin.” A loud creak erupted behind me, and Rowan and Ian poked their heads in. Bradley immediately launched himself at them. “You must be brother. And other guy. I’m Bradley.” He shook their hands enthusiastically. “But why aren’t you two as wet as this one? I thought your car wasn’t waterproof.”
Rowan grimaced. “The back leaks the most.”
“And the back is where I sit,” I filled in.
“Way to be gentlemanly,” Bradley said brusquely, his gaze drifting back and forth between them.
Ian yanked at his sweatshirt strings, his cheeks slightly pink. “She wasn’t supposed to come; we weren’t prepared.”
“Yeah, yeah, save it.” Bradley waved them off. “Now come sign the book while little sister takes a shower.” He turned to me. “Bathroom is past the bunk room. Towels are in the closet next to it.” I was out of the room before he even finished his sentence.
Despite the bathroom’s questionable cleanliness, the shower felt life-changing. I changed into a fresh set of clothes and wandered back into the lobby, tugging a comb through my hair. Bradley sat paging through a dog-eared copy of Encyclopedia of Surfing. When he saw me, he slow clapped. “Huge improvement. Huge. You look one hundred percent less like a boiled rat.”
“Thank you,” I said, biting back a smile. “I wasn’t aware that I ever looked like a boiled rat, but that’s an incredible compliment. Do you know where the guys are?”
He nodded his head to the dining room. “Bouncy one’s in there, trying to track down the Internet signal. Good luck to him. Sad guy is in the bunk room.”
“Sad guy is here,” Rowan interrupted, walking into the room.
Ouch. “Oh, sorry, bloke. I meant, um . . .” Bradley backpedaled.
Rowan ignored him. “Addie, you ready to go to Inch Beach? It looks like it’s clearing up out there.”
“Already?” I turned to look out the window. A patch of blue beamed brightly among the gray clouds. “That was fast.”
Bradley dropped his book. “Weather turns pretty quickly around here.” He straightened up, dropping back into a sales pitch. “And might I interest you two in renting bicycles for the small fee of three euro apiece? I can also toss in the best free tour guide Dingle has to offer.” He extended his arms out wide. “Me.”
Stretching my legs on a bicycle sounded like perfection. “That’s a great idea! Rowan?”
He hesitated, keeping his eyes firmly away from mine. “Bikes would be great. I have no interest in getting back in that wet car. But . . . I’ve spent some time on the peninsula, so I think I can manage the tour guide role.” He didn’t want an audience for the Heartache Homework. Rowan was really taking this seriously.
“Ahhh,” Bradley sang, looking between us.
“We’re just doing this guidebook thing,” I said quickly. My cheeks boiled even though I had nothing to hide.
“Guidebook thing, is that what the kids are calling it?” Bradley winked. “No worries. I know when I’m not wanted. Bikes are around back in the shed. You can have them on the house. Just don’t tell my uncle Ray. And you’ll come to the party tonight, right? People start gathering on the porch at about nine o’clock.”
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