I was also dealing with some extra stress. Lina had found a flight that would get her and Ren into Dublin by tomorrow evening, and Ren had even managed to secure three tickets to Electric Picnic so we could all go to the concert together. Seeing the e-mail sent insecurity ricocheting through me. What if I didn’t like Ren? Or worse, what if he didn’t like me? Could a boyfriend and best friend coexist if they didn’t like each other? And if not, who got the ax?
I wrapped my arms around myself and looked up through the trees, trying to refocus my mind. The forest was absolutely drenched in moss. Every surface and every branch dripped and glistened with it, softening everything to a green glow.
“We’d better do this before Ian gets back,” I said. We’d convinced him to take a walk, but I doubted he’d be gone long. He was antsy to get to the next Titletrack site.
“Okay, you first. What’s the worst part of your heartache?” Rowan asked.
Mine was a hard call. Was it public humiliation? Letting my brother down? An unexpected answer rose to the surface. “I didn’t listen to myself. There were so many red flags, but I ignored them. I let myself down.” I exhaled slowly, sadness coating me from head to toe. “What about you? What’s the worst part?”
Rowan shifted, crunching some twigs. “Knowing I don’t have any control over the situation.”
“I might steal that one.”
Rowan hesitated again. “You can tell me to shut up, but what happened exactly? Did you break up with him, or did—”
“It was him.” I pressed my head against the bark, my heart sending out another pulse of ache.
Rowan absorbed my silence for a moment, then stood and crunched his way around the tree, sitting next me. “Hey, Addie, you know I’m here for you, right? Like if you need to talk?”
I met his eyes. They were big and liquid, ready to absorb whatever ugliness I had for them. And suddenly the whole ugly story rose up until it was pushing against the back of my teeth. I did need someone to talk to about it all, but I’d been telling myself the story for ten days now, and it had become pretty clear what part I played in it: loser girl who throws herself at a guy because she’s desparate to keep his attention. Not exactly flattering. Or friend-attracting.
“Thanks, Rowan, but I think I’m done here,” I said, climbing quickly to my feet. At the car, Ian narrowed his eyes at us. “Why do you guys look so mopey?”
He was right. The time in Killarney National Park had really brought my mood down. I’d always heard you were supposed to distract yourself from heartbreak—not zero in on it. Why was Guidebook Lady so insistent on digging into heartache?
“We don’t look mopey,” Rowan said. “We’re sad. They’re two different things.”
“Well, this isn’t going to help,” Ian said, tossing me his phone. “Text from Mom. That woman is relentless.”
“Great,” I groaned. I pulled up the text.
How’s Italy? How are things with Addie?
“Well, at least she actually seems to think we’re in Italy,” I said.
He shook his head, unconvinced. “Or she’s testing us.”
I wrote back, Hey Mom, this is Addie. Things are going great!! Italy is so beautiful and WARM. You were right, we just needed some time together!!!! Really feeling some great sibling vibes!!
I regretted the text the second I hit send. It sounded like it had been written by a deranged cheerleader. A deranged cheerleader who was obsessed with the fact that her body temperature hadn’t been normal in days. If Bradley’s cameo hadn’t tipped her off, this would. She wrote back immediately: Had no idea Howard was Australian. How interesting!
Ridiculous. Either she was laying a trap, or spending so much time with Aunt Mel was warping her brain. She knew Howard was American—it was a requirement for running the American cemetery.
I was so absorbed in trying to decipher my mom’s text that it took me several minutes to realize that Ian and Rowan were now arguing.
“Ian, I’m being serious. I can’t get caught.” Rowan’s hands were as tense as his voice, and his eyes darted nervously to the rearview mirror. I turned to look behind me, but the road was empty except for a long, fuzzy strip of grass growing through the middle of it. Roads had no chance here—Ireland liked to swallow them whole. “I just don’t think we should risk it.”
Ian’s mouth settled into a hard line. “Rowan, it took us three weeks to track down where the Red Room is. And you just want to throw that all away?” He jabbed his finger accusingly. “I thought you were a fan.”
“Whoa,” I said, perking up. Those were fighting words. But they didn’t seem to ruffle Rowan.
He shook his head soundly. “Stop acting the maggot. Not wanting to see it and not wanting to get caught are two different things.”
This sounded interesting. I abandoned Ian’s phone and scrambled forward to read the next site on the map. “What’s Torc Manor?”
Rowan inclined his head slightly toward Ian. “Should I tell her, or do you want to?”
“Be my guest,” Ian said, dropping his head back down to his map. Back at the Rainbow’s End, he had peeled the tape off his window, and now he had his right hand out, fingers spread in the wind.
“I’m waiting,” I prompted.
Rowan sighed heavily, then met my expectant eyes. “Torc Manor is a summer house that used to belong to the drummer’s uncle. They recorded an entire album in the sitting room there.”
“It’s called the Red Room,” Ian added, taking over. Whenever he was excited about a story, he had to get involved in the telling. “They went in thinking the album would be more upbeat and kind of poppy, but the room was full of heavy drapes and carpet, and all the fabric absorbed some of the sound and completely changed the way the songs came out. After that, they started producing songs that had that same moody vibe. They even re-created the same atmosphere in real recording studios with pillows and things. The room changed their whole musical direction.”
This was exactly the kind of musical fact that Ian loved to geek out over. Thanks to Ian, I knew tons of odd music trivia—things like Paul McCartney hearing the melody for “Yesterday” in a dream, and Bill Wyman being asked to join the Rolling Stones solely because he had access to an amplifier. No wonder Ian’s knee had graduated from bouncing to marching. Seeing something as iconic to him as the Red Room was his dream come true. “Okay . . .” I studied Rowan’s grim face, allowing the “dot-dot-dot” to settle. Then I jabbed him in the shoulder. “So what’s the problem here? Why are you so nervous?”
Rowan exhaled, giving his glasses a shove. “I just don’t want to get caught trespassing. School’s about to start, and if I get in any kind of trouble with the law, I’ll get expelled.”
“ ‘Trespassing’ is such a harsh word,” Ian said, a grin swallowing his face whole. “I prefer ‘unlawful entry.’ ”
Trespassing? I transferred my jabbing finger from Rowan to Ian. “No way. Priority number one is keeping Mom and Dad from knowing about our side trip. Which means we are not doing anything that could potentially involve police.”
“No one is going to call the police.” Ian tugged on his hair. “Why are you guys being so dramatic? All we’re going to do is drive in there, snap a few photos, and get out. The owners will never even know we were there.”
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