You did the same thing, my brain nudged silently.
I hadn’t told Ian about Cubby; he’d found out all on his own. And then he’d confronted me immediately.
“Addie, not him. Anyone but him.” Ian’s voice startled me so much, I almost fell back out the window. It was two a.m., just a few days after our field trip to the troll, and he was sitting at my desk in the dark, his headphones pushed down around his neck.
I recovered just in time, stumbling into the room and turning to pull the window most of the way shut. Cubby’s car was already gone. “What do you mean? Not who?” I said, pulling my shoes off and tossing them onto the floor. I’d taken to wearing running sneakers at night—it made the climb easier.
“I just saw you get out of his car.” Ian stood, sending my desk chair spinning. “Addie, not him,” he repeated, his face pleading.
A slow fury built in my center, surprising me with its intensity. Why did he think he got a say in who I dated? “Ian, I get that Cubby’s your teammate, but you don’t get to tell me whether or not I hang out with him.”
He pulled his headphones off his neck, balling them into his fist. “Addie, I’m with him a lot. I hear how he talks about girls. You don’t want to hang out with him. Believe me.”
But I didn’t want to believe him. And so I didn’t.
I can usually count on sleep to polish out the hard edges of whatever I’m worrying about—like a broken bottle tumbling through waves to become sea glass. But I spent the night as jagged as they come.
The mattresses were, as promised, utter crap, and a little after one a.m. the entire party, including Ian and Rowan, descended on the bunk beds in a stampede. Finally, morning came, and I woke to light filtering softly through the barred windows. I rolled to my side. An orchestra of different snores and breathing patterns wafted through the room. Most of the beds still contained lumps of people. Everyone’s, that was, except Ian’s.
I jumped to sitting. Ian’s and Rowan’s beds were empty, the sheets and pillows removed. Even their bags were gone.
“Are you kidding me?” I yelped into the silence.
They’d left me. Again. Even Rowan. I hurled myself out of bed, stumbling over a child-size backpack propped up against my bed before crashing loudly into a bedpost.
“Hallo?” a startled voice said from the top bunks.
“Sorry.” I raced barefoot out into the hall and into the dining room, colliding face-first with Ian, who, of course, was holding a steaming hot mug of something.
“Addie!” he yelled, the drink sloshing everywhere. “Why are you running?”
The relief was so intense that I nearly folded in half. I rested my hands on my knees, waiting for my heart to slow. “I thought you left me.”
“Left you? What would possibly make you think that?” He opened his eyes wide and then snorted, laughing at his own joke.
Laughing. He was laughing. Had he forgotten about last night’s fight? He grabbed a handful of napkins from the kitchen table and swiped at the spill on his shoes.
“Yes, really funny. So, so funny.” I jabbed him in the shoulder. His black eye looked a little better today. The outer edges were already fading to a dull green.
“What’s so funny?” Rowan asked, joining us in the hallway.
“The fact that I now have PTSD over being left behind,” I said. Rowan’s hair was nicely rumpled. Today’s cat shirt featured a bespectacled cat with the words HAIRY PAWTER.
“That’s not new,” Ian said. “You did that every time one of us graduated to the next level of school. I thought you were going to have a breakdown when I graduated from elementary school to junior high.”
“Ian, shut up,” I demanded, but I relaxed a little. His tone was still teasing. “Why are you in such a good mood, anyway?”
He held up his phone. “I’m only two followers away from ten thousand. Everyone loved the photos of Slea Head and the Burren.”
“Ian, that’s great,” I said, meaning it. I wanted to tell him how much I’d liked his articles, but covered in coffee at the Rainbow’s End didn’t feel like quite the right time. I wanted it to be special.
He nodded happily. “Hopefully, the next stop will put us over the edge. Get dressed—we’re leaving in five.”
“How about six?” I asked. Rowan caught my eye and grinned.
“Five,” Ian said. “Don’t push me, sis.”
Killarney National Park
Are you enjoying the wooded delights of Ireland, love? Have you noticed the trees standing in tight communal bunches, branches locked together in an embrace of mutual affection and appreciation? Does it remind you of me and you? The way we just get each other?
Me too, pet. Me too.
Muse with me for a moment—have you ever stopped to think about how much work a tree represents? How many steps it’s gone through to get to where it is today? Take one of those mammoth trees outside your window, for example. Their ancestors had to migrate to our bonny island. Birds and animals carried seeds like hazel and oak across land bridges that once connected Ireland to Britain and Europe. Other seeds—the light ones, like birch and willow—arrived on a puff of air. And that was just the beginning. Once they were here, those tiny seeds had a lot of work to do. All the growing, stretching, reaching.
Makes me think about all the work you’re doing.
What work? Heartache, love. The aching of the heart. And unlike so many other tasks, it’s one only you can do. No delegating or shortcuts allowed. We humans love to try to circumvent pain. We want a shortcut, a trapdoor, something that will slurp us up and spit us out on the other side, no sticky messiness necessary.
But the sticky messiness is required. The process is built into the name. If you want to get through heartache, you’re going to have to let your heart, you know, ache. And no matter how many distractions you pile on—cartons of ice cream, shopping binges, marathon naps—you can’t outsmart heartache. It has nowhere to be, nothing to do. It will just stand there, buffing its nails, waiting until you’re ready.
It’s a persistent little devil.
So let’s get to work, sugarplum. Let’s quit drowning our pain in music and credit card bills and cyberstalking. Let’s confront it. Let’s own it. You’ve got a job to do, and the sooner you get to work, the sooner you can get back to frolicking through a forest like the sparkly little forest nymph I know you to be.
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: Ready to do the work, love? I thought so. Find a tree that speaks to you and nestle up at its base. And then, when you’re good and comfortable, name the thing that hurts the most about this heartache of yours. Don’t flinch. Don’t look away. Just face it. Why the tree, you ask? Because trees are exceptionally good listeners, of course.
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
“WELL, THIS SUCKS,” ROWAN SAID from the other side of the tree.
“Agreed,” I answered. We’d decided to use the same mossy-trunked tree, him on one side, me on the other. And so far, the Heartache Homework was making my heart feel . . . achy. Which I guess was the point. Looking right at heartache was like looking at the sun. It burned.
I shivered, rubbing at my goose bumps. My clothes were soaked again. A night in the Rainbow’s End carport hadn’t done the magic we’d hoped for. Clover’s back seat had morphed subtly from soggy to mushy, and even though Bradley had donated a few towels to what he called Operation Keep Addie from Looking Like a Boiled Rat, my shorts were soaked through before we even hit the main road.
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