“Tackling people in parking lots, surviving head injuries . . .” Rowan sounded amused, his worry about being seen lifting. “Addie, I have a new nickname for you, and I think it fits perfectly.” He met my eyes in the mirror, pausing dramatically. “Queen Maeve.”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“She’s a famous Irish queen. Part myth, part real. And she was a warrior. I’ll find a picture.” He hit silent on another incoming call and then passed his phone to me. Ian crowded in close to look. A blond, long-haired woman sat slumped over on a throne, like someone was trying—and failing—to entertain her. Her foot rested on a golden shield.
“She seems . . . cool,” I said, trying to disguise how flattered I felt. I’d always identified with characters like this. The limp-noodle princesses never felt right—who wanted to sit around in a tower all day?
Rowan took his phone back, nodding. “They buried her standing up; that way she’s always waiting for her enemies. The best part is that her tomb keeps getting bigger because any time someone hikes up the hill where she’s buried, they take a rock with them and add it to the pile.” He quickly turned his head back to me when he said, “So she’s always getting stronger.”
I loved the sound of that.
Just as I was about to thank him, Rowan’s phone started ringing again, and I quickly handed it back to him. He angrily hit the silence button.
“Who keeps calling?” Ian asked, his nose just a few inches from the photos.
“My mum.” The words spat out of his mouth, too vehement for either of us to ignore. It was the same tone he’d had when he was on the phone at the gas station.
Ian’s eyes quickly found mine. “Everything okay?” he asked.
Rowan shook his head roughly. “I’m not her friend. I’m her kid. She can’t keep coming to me with her problems.” His foot pressed heavily on the accelerator, and suddenly we went from flying to jetting, the scenery rushing past.
Ian and I exchanged a worried look. The speedometer was rising. We were still in the okay range, but very high speed could be in our immediate future.
I tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Uh . . . Rowan. You’re going pretty fast. Do you need a break? I could drive for a while.”
“Or I could,” Ian offered, his hands twisting nervously. “I can’t promise I won’t drive us into a wall, but I could try.”
“I’m the only one with a license to drive here.” Rowan let up slightly, but he was still going way over the speed limit. His hand gripped tightly around his phone.
“Rowan, let me take that for you.” I reached forward, gently prying his phone away. “I think you and your phone need some time apart.” I tossed it discreetly to Ian, then rested my hand on Rowan’s shoulder. “Hey, Rowan, I don’t know what’s going on exactly, but you aren’t alone. We’re here for you.” It was almost exactly what he’d said to me back in Killarney.
A long moment of silence unspooled, and then Rowan sagged forward, his speed slowly ticking down. Ian looked at me with appreciative eyes.
“Sorry, guys. My parents are putting a lot of pressure on me. It’s been a really tough year. I just . . .” His voice wobbled.
Ian’s eyes met mine again, and the message was clear. Help him.
“Um . . .” I glanced down, my eyes landing on the guidebook. “What if we add an extra guidebook stop? There’s a castle between Killarney and Cobh. It’s a little bit off our trail, but it sounds really interesting.”
“Blarney Castle?” Rowan’s voice instantly perked up. “That’s a great idea. I could really use some time to decompress.”
“Uh . . . ,” Ian broke in. “I obviously want you to have some time to decompress, but I’m worried that another stop will make us late to Cobh. It took me a month of e-mailing to get the owner of the pub there to respond, and then she said she only had a one-hour window. I really don’t want to risk it.”
Why was he being so clueless? Could he not tell the level of despair Rowan was in?
“He really needs a break,” I said, shooting daggers at Ian through my eyes. “We’ll be fast. Also, how many Irish people have you been cyberharassing this summer?” Poor people. When he fixated on something, Ian could be relentless.
“Only two,” Ian muttered, the tips of his ears glowing red.
“We have plenty of time. And back there you did say that you owe me.” Rowan looked at Ian expectantly.
Ian hesitated, a clump of hair disappearing into his mouth before he relented. “Okay. As long as we’re fast, it should be fine. I just don’t want another tractor situation.”
Rowan and I shared a victorious smile in the mirror.
The Blarney Stone
There comes a moment in every heartbroken traveler’s life when she find herself dangling upside down from the top of a castle, lips planted on a saliva-coated rock, and she thinks, How on earth did I get here?
Let me assure you, this is a perfectly natural part of the heartbreak process.
The place? Blarney Castle. The saliva-coated rock? The Blarney Stone, a hunk of limestone with a sordid history and the propensity for attracting more than three hundred thousand visitors a year. Rumor has it anyone who locks lips with the magical stone will find themselves endowed with “the gift of gab”—the ability to talk and charm their way out of just about anything.
I’m not entirely sold on the gab bit, but I do know two things the Blarney Stone is excellent for: communal herpes of the mouth and discussions about rejection. Let’s delve into rejection, shall we?
Because you’re a human and because you’re alive, I’m going to assume that you’ve faced your own Blarney moment. A time when you’ve put yourself out there—vulnerable, dangling—but instead of the blessed reciprocity your heart yearned for, all you got was a slimy stone that did not in fact create any oratorical prowess.
Been there. And I know exactly how that feels. I also know it’s tempting to believe that you’re the only person who’s been left hanging. But you’re not. Oh, you’re not. In fact, the pain of rejection is so common, it’s served as the inspiration for roughly half of history’s art (and, I would argue, acts of lunacy). And yet when it happens to you, it feels like something brand-new. Like the world has cooked up the worst thing it could think of and then called you in for dinner.
That’s love for you. Universal and yet so damn personal. Solidarity, sister. Anyone who hasn’t gotten hurt is either a liar or a robot, and we all know that liars and robots make for terrible friends. Also, robot uprisings. Can we talk about the fact that we don’t talk about them enough?
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: You know what you’re going to have to do, don’t you, pet? Climb the castle, plunge into a gaping hole, and kiss the damn stone. Embrace the communal germs. They’re there to remind you that you are not alone.
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
AS USUAL, IRELAND HAD NO interest in keeping to our time frame. Roadwork cluttered the road into Blarney—mostly construction workers yelling jovially to one another as they set up unnecessary-looking traffic cones. The castle wasn’t much better. The site was stuffed full of tourists and the variety of ways they’d gotten themselves there.
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